Participants sit for an experimental session at the Cognition and Behavior Lab at Aarhus University, where Dan Mønster has tested his networked computer game. (Image: Aarhus University)

In social species like humans, the information we have about group members and the nature of their relationships can help us make decisions about how to interact with each other. This process impacts our decisions about whom to fight and when to cooperate. Scientists have studied aspects of how people process information in social situations through controlled lab experiments. However, to more comprehensively understand the interplay of sociality, decision-making, and information, we need more complex models that incorporate dynamics of real-world interactions.

A working group meeting February 4-6 is developing a generalizable theory about the role of information in group conflict. The meeting is part of a grant from the Army Research Office, funding a project led by SFI External Professor Simon DeDeo (Carnegie Mellon), ASU-SFI Fellow Elizabeth Hobson, and Dan Mønster, Associate Professor at Aarhus University and a recent sabbatical visitor at SFI.

At the heart of their project is a networked computer game developed by Mønster. As people play the game in the lab, the team can adjust the amount and type of information each player receives about others, and monitor how every individual’s decisions change in relation to the information they have. The researchers detect signatures of these decision-making processes using new computational tools.

The working group brings together researchers studying how sociality and cognition interact in both humans and animals. “It’s a large group of researchers including people from sociology, anthropology, psychology, social evolution, and others,” says Hobson. “We want to find new areas of commonality that would tie our work more closely to the work in these other fields.”

The team hopes the working group will develop new connections for linking lab results and real-world data and identify other systems in which networked computer games may be useful for understanding social decisions.

“In the real world, we’re faced with lots of information that could be used to make decisions” says Hobson. “This project could give us insight into how we process that information, and the cognition behind it.”