The geometric modelling of social frames and contexts

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Conference Proceeding
MODSIM 2011 - 19th International Congress on Modelling and Simulation - Sustaining Our Future: Understanding and Living with Uncertainty, 2011, pp. 2975 - 2981
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How do humans respond to their social context? This question is becoming increasingly urgent in a society where democracy requires that the citizens of a country help to decide upon its policy directions, and yet those citizens frequently have very little knowledge of the complex issues that these policies seek to address. Frequently, we find that humans make their decisions more with reference to their social setting, than to the arguments of scientists, academics, and policy makers. It is broadly anticipated that the agent based modelling (ABM) of human behaviour will make it possible to treat such social effects, but we take the position here that a more sophisticated treatment of context will be required in many such models. While notions such as historical context (where the past history of an agent might affect its later actions) and situational context (where the agent will choose a different action in a different situation) abound in ABM scenarios, we will discuss a case of a potentially changing context, where social effects can have a strong influence upon the perceptions of a group of subjects. In particular, we shall discuss a recently reported case where a biased worm in an election debate led to significant distortions in the reports given by participants as to who won the debate (Davis et al., 2011). Thus, participants in a different social context drew different conclusions about the perceived winner of the same debate, with associated significant differences among the two groups as to who they would vote for in the coming election. We extend this example to the problem of modelling the likely electoral responses of agents in the context of the climate change debate, and discuss the notion of interference between related questions that might be asked of an agent in a social simulation that was intended to simulate their likely responses. A modelling technology which could account for such strong social contextual effects would benefit regulatory bodies which need to navigate between multiple interests and concerns, and we shall present one viable avenue for constructing such a technology. A geometric approach will be presented, where the internal state of an agent is represented in a vector space, and their social context is naturally modelled as a set of basis states that are chosen with reference to the problem space.
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