The Discipline of psychology
The discipline of psychology is fraught with conceptual chaos and a multiplicity of constructs. They have also assessed psychology to be a soft science, with much potential to be a hard science, should it allow itself to be unified by the principles offered by evolutionary psychology. With this approach, psychology would transition from its pre-paradigmatic to a paradigmatic status. We question the premise, method, and conclusion, and finally submit that the preoccupation with the paradigm is connected with a positivist view of scientific knowledge production. Psychological constructs are not ostensive in nature and cannot be treated as the matter is in the hard sciences. This is neither possible nor desirable. Additionally, such constructs are located in various theoretical perspectives, necessary to understand their multifaceted nature. We question the proposal of evolutionary psychology as an alternative meta-theory. Psychology is essentially a human endeavor.
Over the last 20 years, positive psychology has had a remarkable rise within research and clinical practice. More and more, psychologists are shifting from a deficit-focused view of mental health to a strength-based one, proactively focusing on factors like positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaningfulness, purposefulness, and achievement (i.e., PERMA) instead of just psychopathology. Respectively, this chapter introduces an evolved “dual-factor” model of mental health that includes a positive dimension (i.e., “subjective well-being”), proposes a gaming-based conceptualization of strengths and weakness, and discusses the evidence-based uses of video games within the PERMA model as a way to foster resilience and well-being. Case and practical examples are included.
The Good Behavior Game (GBG): A Best Practice Candidate as a Universal Behavioral Therapy
A “behavioral therapy” provides an inoculation against morbidity or mortality, impacting physical, mental, or behavior disorders. A historical example of a behavioral vaccine is antiseptic handwashing to reduce childbed fever. In current society, issues with high levels of morbidity, such as substance abuse, delinquency, youth violence, and other behavioral disorders (multi problems), cry out for a low-cost, widespread strategy as simple as antiseptic handwashing. Congruent research findings from longitudinal studies, twin studies, and other investigations suggest that a possibility might exist for a behavioral vaccine for multi problems behavior.
A simple behavioral strategy called the Good Behavior Game (GBG), which reinforces inhibition in a group context of elementary school, has substantial previous research to consider its use as a behavioral vaccine. The GBG is not a curriculum but rather a simple behavioral procedure from applied behavior analysis. Approximately 20 independent replications of the GBG across different grade levels, different types of students, different settings, and some with long-term follow-up show strong, consistent impact on impulsive, disruptive behaviors of children and teens as well as reductions in substance use or serious antisocial behaviors. The GBG, named as a “best practice” for the prevention of substance abuse or violent behavior by a number of federal agencies, is unique because it is the only practice implemented by individual teachers that are documented to have long-term effects. Presently, the GBG is only used in a small number of settings. However, near-universal use of the GBG, in major political jurisdictions during the elementary years, could substantially reduce the incidence of substance use, antisocial behavior, and other adverse developmental or social consequences at a very modest cost, with very positive cost-effectiveness ratios.
Children’s Verbalizations and Cheating Behavior During Game Playing: The Role of Sociometric Status, Aggression, and Gender
The first goal is to investigate sociometric status, aggression, and gender differences in children’s verbalizations and cheating behavior during game playing using a fine-grained observational coding system. The second goal is to control for the effects of differential peer treatment and bias on children’s behavior by observing children in a standardized procedure with unfamiliar peer confederates. Participants, 111, second-grade African American children, half average and half rejected sociometric status, half aggressive and half nonaggressive based on peer nominations, and half boys and half girls. Rejected children engaged in more cheating behavior and made more negative and argumentative verbalizations than average status children. Boys made more negative and argumentative verbalizations than girls. Aggressive children did not differ from nonaggressive children, in terms of either verbalizations or cheating behavior.
Evolutionary Game Theory and Personality
Evolutionary game theory is a set of research methods used to investigate the evolution of social behavior, whereas personality research is mainly focused on comprehensively describing individual differences and their correlates. Until recently, these research domains developed independently, and scholars from one domain only scarcely referred to insights obtained in the other domain. This is changing, however, due to two developments. First, models of evolutionary game theory reveal that personality differences may have an adaptive explanation. These models generate new insights into the origins of personality, and some of these models produce novel and testable hypotheses. Second, it is becoming clear that individual differences matter for the course and outcome of evolution. Accordingly, insights from evolutionary game theory (and experiments based on these insights) can be misleading if personality differences are neglected.
Agent-Based Modelling: A Bridge Between Psychology and Macro-Social Science
Agent-based modeling is the practice of creating artificial agents and environments and monitoring how these interact over time. This provides a computational framework to study how individual agents influence and are influenced by the social systems that result from their interactions. These methods are useful to macro-psychologists, as they might serve as a bridge between traditional, small-scale behavioral science and large-scale social and societal systems. We hope, this provides an illustrative example of how agent-based modeling can be used and how these methods have matured over time. We conclude by moving beyond cooperation, to two contemporary examples which highlight how agent-based modeling can speak to issues that macro-psychologists care about such as how to strengthen democratic societies and how to minimize structural bias against minorities.
Social Psychology and Economics
Specialization is of course inevitable; nobody can keep up with all literature in a mature discipline. It has its disadvantages, though. A labor-economist can stay unaware of recent developments in industrial organization or macro-economics, even though these developments may be relevant for his own field. The same goes for social psychologists who fail to stay updated with psychophysics or clinical psychology. These problems are often recognized on a departmental level, and departmental seminars and colloquia are organized to enhance communication between fields.
A common view of an economist “Social psychologists are great experimentalists, but sloppy thinkers. Most of them don’t understand game theory.”
A common view of a social psychologist is “Economists stubbornly believe in unlimited rationality and self-interest, although there are now ample demonstrations of systematic deviations from rationality and of fairness concerns and altruism. The experiments they do are mostly variations of experiments about every 20 years ago.”
An economist’s view of psychologists is “They are sloppy thinkers,” economists are used to precise definitions.
Social psychologists are great experimentalists. This can be considered a positive opinion, but if the emphasis is on the last word, the suggestion is that designing experiments is their only strength. Psychologists are very creative and clever in designing an experimental situation that demonstrates the existence of a certain phenomenon. However, the mere existence of a phenomenon in a specific situation is not satisfactory for most economists. Economists like to have a theory for all situations or institutions. In what kind of institutions can we expect this phenomenon, and how important is it compared with other effects? This calls for carefully defined theories.
It is a tradition in economics to use a mathematical notation and if possible, to present a theory in the form of a model. The mathematics that is used is often very basic, but this format forces the economist to be precise in definitions, assumptions, and relations. Psychologists can be discouraged by these complex formulations and notations for (sometimes) simple ideas. Needless to say, psychologists are not sloppy thinkers, but they use a way of presenting their ideas that are not familiar to economists. Psychologists have a tendency to introduce new terminology in their theories by contrasting the new term with existing ones and by giving some illustrations. This can be very frustrating for economists who are not familiar with the jargon.
In addition, psychologists often have different goals than economists and neither seems to realize that. Psychologists want to show that a certain psychological process can play a role by demonstrating a phenomenon that cannot be explained by other, rival theories. Whether the employed experimental situation is close to real-life situations and whether the effect is strong enough to be quantitatively important in other situations is not relevant to the psychologist, but most relevant for the economist.
“Psychologists don’t understand game theory. “Game theory is central for almost all microeconomic theories of the last 50 years. Economists use it as a toolbox to describe and understand strategic situations. Because sociology and political science, as well as theoretical biology, make extensive use of game theory, some economists hope that someday game theory will be the common language that will unite the social sciences. Many psychologists are skeptical about game theory. They consider game theory exclusively as a theory for predicting behavior in a given experimental game (under the assumption that players care only for their own payoff) that often fails. Therefore, they are not very interested in learning the subtleties of game theory, and only very basic aspects of game theory are included in their training (if at all).
Economists use game theory in another way. What are the possible actions of the agents in a strategic situation, in what order can they act, what do they know at each decision node, what are the possible outcomes of the interactions, and what are the preferences of the agents over these outcomes? Game theory provides all the elements necessary to describe a strategic situation exactly. If observed behavior is different from the game-theoretic model of the situation, something is wrong in the model, for example, the assumptions about the agents’ preferences over the outcomes. Game theory can be used as an exact language to describe strategic situations, and economists are disappointed that psychologists do not use it for that purpose. Of course, this is caused by the different goals of psychologists and economists. Economists want to understand situations and institutions, and the behavior of the agents therein, while psychologists are mainly concerned with the psychological processes that lead to the behavior.
Psychologists want theories to be true; they have little tolerance for theories that can be shown to be false, but a lot of tolerance for theories of limited scope. If different situations require different theories, so be it. Economists seem to view theories more as useful approximations, and they want them to be useful in a broad range of circumstances and are willing to tolerate that they are not precisely true, which isn’t what they expect of approximations.
Assumptions of rationality and self-interest work very well in many situations, and an economist is only willing to introduce bounded rationality or social preferences if such complications are really needed to improve the model. This is again a question about how institutions frame individual behavior. They propose a simple model to describe different social preferences, and they provide a rough indication of the proportion of the different kinds of social preferences in the population. The next step is careful reasoning about the kind of situations where social preferences will have an impact on the aggregate outcome. For example, in a repeated public good game with enough group members with social preferences, self-interested agents have an incentive to contribute to the public good and thus act as if they have social preferences too. This is because if they don’t contribute, the players with social preferences will reduce their contribution and that hurts more than the cost of a current contribution. The presence of agents with social preferences can have a very large impact in this situation. However, in a double auction market (both buyers and sellers make offers that can be accepted by all, like a stock market) the self-interested trader determines the price and the influence of traders with social preferences will be very small.
Let me give another example, now about bounded rationality. To an economist, it seems reasonable that errors are less likely when the cost of the error will be larger. The idea behind this is that a decision-maker is willing to spend more time thinking if she expects this will be worthwhile; there is a trade-off between the cost of thinking and the benefits of a better decision. In this model, the best decision is not always made, but there is a positive relationship between the expected quality of a choice and the probability it is made (in technical terms; a quantal response is assumed). In strategic situations, this means that a player is not sure that the other player is completely rational (an assumption of standard game theory) but knows that some mistakes are more likely than others. If both players rightly assume that both make the same kind of errors (both make quantal responses) an equilibrium can be calculated. In some cases, this equilibrium is close to the standard game-theoretic equilibrium, but in some cases, it is not.
However, the difference between economists and psychologists may be smaller than perceived by some. Psychologists also like elegant theories with as few elements as possible. It is very common for psychologists studying social behavior to assume that participants make rational decisions, that is, choose the behavior according to their social preferences without systematic mistakes.
“The experiments economists do are mostly variations of experiments we did 20 years ago.” Experimental economics started in the early sixties with market experiments in the USA and oligopoly experiments in Europe. In the eighties, attention shifted (partly) to the anomalies found by psychologists, for example, the preference reversal phenomenon [when presented with a pair of lotteries (cleverly designed by the researcher), decision-makers will value one lottery above the other, but inconsistently tend to choose the other one]. At that time experimental economists replicated psychological results using economic experimental methods (e.g., paying subjects substantial sums based upon their decisions instead of using questionnaires). Of course, an economist may think an experimental situation to be very different from others because of (game) theoretic subtleties, while a psychologist may not think it to be such a fundamental variation.
Concluding, misunderstandings between psychologists and economists are, for the most part, caused by both parties failing to realize that, although the methodology is much the same, the goals and the research questions often differ on essential points. Psychologists want to understand the processes underlying human behavior and focus on theories that are essentially true but with a limited scope. Economists are interested in the relations between institutions and behavior, and consider a theory to be an approximation that will not always be completely true but often close. Bounded rationality and social preferences are only included in models when necessary to improve predictions considerably. In order to know in what kind of situations we can expect a specific behavior to have an impact, we need to understand the processes behind that behavior. Differences in experimental methodology are not the main problem; in marketing science (also a very experimental-oriented field) economists and psychologists apparently can work together well.
Games are making their way into the workplace through applications of “gamification” that treat work activities as games in order to make employees more satisfied, productive, and happy. All of these serious games’ applications work because of the same psychology and quirks of human nature that are in play in the video games that are played as entertainment. We should understand that psychology will also help you not only when you play but also when you shop, learn, work, and engage in the political process. It will also help you understand why you engage with products and services that rely on the same psychological tricks, such as Twitter, Pinterest, email, message boards, Facebook, and any other social media platform. Applying the psychology of games to other software products is more of an inferential hop than a leap. This is one of the reasons why academic interest in video games has risen alongside sales records. Like those who play them just for fun, many of today’s brightest scholars grew up with video games, and they want to study what interests them and what they see as the most important medium of their age. As a result, many of these academics are donning their lab jackets, grabbing a clipboard, and advancing the fields of sociology, economics, and communications through research involving video games and virtual worlds. Psychology, the study of mental processes and behavior, has been a particularly productive field for understanding video games and the people who play them. Not too many years ago it would have seemed absurd to see scientific, peer-reviewed publications like the Journal For Virtual Worlds Research, Games and Culture, Computers in Human Behavior, International Journal of Human-Computer Psychology, and Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. And yet here they are: real, physical publications that you can hold, read, and smack people around with. Even august, well-established journals like the Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and Psychological Bulletin frequently publish research on virtual worlds and video games. And though many of these scientists happily do their work at universities, more than a few have also been scooped up by video game development companies to do research from inside the industry and use their insights on the psychology of video games. As we will see later in this book, if you’ve played a game developed by Valve, Ubisoft, Electronic Arts, Riot Games, Microsoft, or many others, you’ve benefited from this research and enjoyed something that a psychologist has helped make better.
The interests and methods of social psychologists and economists overlap, but the emphasis is different. Social psychologists focus on the processes underlying behavior, while economists focus on the interaction between institutions and behavior. Of course, this difference may not be that clear-cut, with some researchers located somewhere at the border.