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Exploring Complex Social Phenomena with Computer Simulations


Social Education Volume 71, Number 3, ISSN 0037-7724


In social studies classes, there is a longstanding interest in how societies evolve and change over time. However, as stories of the past unfold, it is often difficult to identify a direct link between causes and effects, so students are forced to accept at face value the interpretations of economists, political scientists, historians, geographers, and other social scientists. Now, new technological tools are available that can help students explore how individual actions can collectively contribute to the emergence of social patterns--patterns that at times are predictable, but in many cases yield surprising results. Agent-based modeling and simulations are tools that have been adapted to acquire a deeper understanding of complex events in the social sciences. Computers are used to imitate real life phenomena by creating virtual interactions inside artificial societies that help explain how "social structures and group behaviors emerge from the interaction of individual agents operating on artificial environments." The use of agent-based models offers a visual method for imitating and examining global patterns. The models are not intended to provide an exact replica of the real world, such as would be found in simulations for flight training, but they can introduce students to methods that may transform how people reflect on the past and foresee the potential of the future. (Contains 11 notes.)


Berson, I.R. & Berson, M.J. (2007). Exploring Complex Social Phenomena with Computer Simulations. Social Education, 71(3), 136-139. Retrieved June 18, 2019 from .

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