Self Interest and Social Behavior

Self Interest and Social Behavior introduces you to decision theory and game theory by considering important applications throughout the social sciences.

Some sample questions we will ponder:
When do people sacrifice for others?
How about animals?
Or is there really a payoff for them after all?

Social behavior, in general, involves actions taken by individuals that, at least when aggregated over a group, affect other individuals. We want to predict and explain this behavior. Viewing this as scientists, we would like to discover, in effect, any “natural laws” that determine this behavior, if not for all environments then for some. One candidate for such a law of social behavior, one that may offer the foundation for a paradigm for each of the social sciences, is that individuals behave to further their own self interest. These models are relatively simple, powerful in their predictions, and might apply to all social behavior. Self Interest and Social Behavior examines these models, builds up their mathematical infrastructure as necessary, and examines these models and their implications through important applications throughout the social sciences. These applications clearly come from economics, political science, psychology, and anthropology, but also biology and philosophy whenever they try to predict or explain social behavior. We intend to demonstrate that these models should, at a minimum, be considered seriously because of their simplicity, their power, and their potentially wide scope.

Models of individuals furthering their own self interest are formalized with either decision theory or game theory. Decision theory is the mathematics of optimizing behavior, where choices are made that further self interest against an environment that does not change in response to these choices. In decision theory, each individual’s choices can be considered independently of choices that any other individual makes. It can be the foundation of either rational choice models or of evolutionary models. Game theory, building upon the foundation of decision theory, is the mathematics of strategic decisions, decisions where the value of the outcome to each individual depends upon the actions that other individuals take as well as actions that the decision maker takes herself. The rival’s choices may be influenced by the first individual’s choices. In game theory, an individual’s choices are interdependent with other individual’s choices. These "choices" might actually be rational choices that individuals make, or they may be the implicit "choices" that natural selection or cultural selection make, in that other alternatives nearly vanish in later populations.

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