SYLLABUS: Complex Systems in Psychology

PSY 607, CRN 16734, Fall 2000, M 1-3 Straub 156


Professor: Dr. Holly Arrow Phone: 346-1996
Office: 357 Straub Office Hours: Mon 11-12, Wed 8-9, & by appt.

Annotated bibliography-in-progress of readings in Complexity/Dynamical systems.

Description: This course is a graduate level exploration of how complex systems theory and related fields (nonlinear dynamics, chaos theory, catastrophe theory) can inform conceptual thinking, research design and analysis, and interpretation of data.

Complexity theory applies to systems in which the evolving activity of interacting units generates coordinated behavior at a more global level of analysis. Rather than focusing on a single level of analysis, it focuses on how units at different levels of a nested hierarchy affect one another's behavior. The smaller units might be neurons, body parts, psychological systems, or human beings, and the whole might be a cognitive system, coordinated motor activity, complex human or animal behavior patterns, or the behavior of groups or organizations.

The first part of the course will introduce you to broad themes in complexity theory. In complex systems, new properties can emerge spontaneously and unexpectedly, without any external "cause." Organized behavior appears without any central control, but the coordination that emerges then constrains the behavior of the system. The same event can have qualitatively different effects on highly similar systems, or on the same system at somewhat different points in its development. The iterated application of simple deterministic rules generates highly complicated behavior. Yet complicated causes can produce simple effects and patterns. And so on. In the second part of the course, we will focus on methodology and application. Students will consider how to apply these ideas to their own research. We will explore some of the methodologies used by researchers who use dynamical systems approaches, and discuss how this relates to more standard approaches to research in the behavioral and social sciences

Reading: In the first five weeks we will read three books: Complexification by John L. Casti (a mathematician), The Collapse of Chaos by Jack Cohen (a biologist) and Ian Stewart (a mathemetician), and Small Groups as Complex Systems, by Holly Arrow, Joseph E. McGrath, and Jennifer L. Berdahl. (Combined cost of books about $50). We will also read a few articles I've picked out that either provide an overview of the field or illustrate applications of the approach. In the second five weeks we will read articles selected by students. Articles will be made available for copying on the third floor of Straub, room 348.

Requirements: The format of the course will be a mix of presentation and discussion. Students will be responsible for finding two articles of interest to add to the reading list, for writing short responses based on the readings; for active participation in class discussion, including leading or co-leading a class session, and for a 5-7 page paper (students who sign up for 3 credits instead of 4 can skip the paper). The paper may be either a review paper or a research proposal for a study that applies ideas or methods from the class to their own work. Course grade will be based (4-credit option) 30 % on paper; 20% on discussion; 40% on weekly written responses, and 10% on leading the class session. For the 3-credit option, grade will be based 30% on discussion, 50% on weekly responses, and 20% on leading the class session. Final paper will be due Monday Dec 4 by 5 PM.