KNOXVILLE—A new center has been established at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, to promote connections and collaborations between researchers focused on human social behavior.
At the Center for the Dynamics of Social Complexity (DySoC), the main goal is to combine system thinking, modeling tools, and big data to develop testable predictions and research into a variety of topics related to human social behavior, such as cooperation, conflict, cultural evolution and dynamics, mass behavior and psychology, and human origins. Researchers will also focus on emergence and evolution of human societies, impacts of social structure on disease transmission, social norms, and societal response to shocks.
An outgrowth of the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) at UT, researchers associated with the center will use theoretical and empirical methods and work at the interface of mathematical, biological, social and computational sciences.
Core faculty members come from various departments across UT, including mathematics, ecology & evolutionary biology, anthropology, classics, political science, and psychology.
Among the current research projects are a study funded by the US Army Research Office to integrate structural theories of revolution with evolutionary models in order to make predictions about societal resilience; a study examining the human capacity for shared attention in the case of extreme political attitudes; and a project to evaluate the causes and consequences of terrorism in democratic states.
"We live in an increasingly connected, complex, and heterogeneous world. To make it better or, at least, not to make it worse, we need to understand how social institutions and societies emerge, function, and break down and what role actions, believes, and changing preferences of individuals play in these processes. This is an enormously challenging scientific and also practical problem, which requires collaboration of researchers and practitioners with diverse backgrounds. The major goal of this center is promote such collaborations," said DySoC Director Sergey Gavrilets. Gavrilets is the associate director for scientific activities at NIMBioS and a professor of mathematics and ecology and evolutionary biology at UT.
DySoC is one of several innovative spin-offs of NIMBioS whose programs and projects have enhanced collaborations and fostered convergent research among diverse academic communities in the United States and internationally.
"We're excited to add DySoC to our growing portfolio of new initiatives that enhance research at the interface of mathematics and biology. DySoC allows us to build novel research on many national needs connected to human behavior," said NIMBioS Director Louis J. Gross.
DySoC is currently co-hosting a series of seminars with NIMBioS during the spring semester. The next seminar, to be held Feb. 14 at NIMBioS, will be given by Alex Bentley, an anthropology professor at UT, on the topic of "The acceleration of cultural evolution." Bentley will discuss how cultural evolution may have profoundly changed—from adaptive selection towards random drift—from the ancient past to the present-day.
More information about DySoC can be found at www.dysoc.org.
The National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis is an NSF-supported center that brings together researchers from around the world to collaborate across disciplinary boundaries to investigate solutions to basic and applied problems in the life sciences. NIMBioS is supported by the National Science Foundation through NSF Award #DBI-1300426, with additional support from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville.