Research on Culture

The performance of economic and political institutions depends upon culture. But what is culture? Is it status hierarchies? Is it behavior? Is it beliefs? Is it a belief system? Is it a means for choosing among equilibria? Or is it all these things? In this project, Jenna Bednar and I construct models of culture that build from standard game theoretic models of institutions. In our conception, culture consists of mental models that are consistent both within and between people in a community that which may sometimes result in suboptimal behavior.

Our models consider ensembles of institutions. We show that institutions shape culture and culture in turn influences the performance of institutions. Thus, choices over institutions can be, and likely are, dependent on previous institutional choices through their effect on culture. Conceptually, our approach considers culture to be both the initial point and the adjustment rule within a dynamical system. That adjustment rule may preclude some choices that increase welfare, thereby creating equilibria in the ensemble setting which would not exist were the institutions to be considered in isolation.

The incentives to coordinate are central to our analysis as they are in many other models of culture, including the model constructed by our colleague Robert Axelrod. Most people’s exposure to coordination problems is limited to binary action pure coordination games: drive on left or right, or shake or bow. But, coordination often takes place on many dimensions simultaneously. It also occurs within and between individuals. We want to remain consistent within ourselves and we want also to be like others. To show how interesting these multi domain models can be, we have included some simple examples that were constructed under our guidance by Aaron Bramson.

Games Theory and Culture in Rationality and Society (with Jenna Bednar)
Institutional Path Dependence (with Jenna Bednar)
Conformity, Consistency and Cultural Heterogeneity (with Jenna Bednar, Aaron Bramson, and Andrea Jones-Rooy)
Rates of Convergence in a Generalized Voter Model (with Len Sander and Casey Schneider – Mizel)

Netlogo Models
Netlogo models of culture (written by Aaron Bramson)