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Sociophysics Simulations of Technology Adoption and Consumer Behavior

By Wj Nuttall and Tao Zhang


Published and used by MIT ESD and CESUN with permission. This paper makes use of spatial agent-based simulation techniques inspired by theoretical condensed matter physics. These techniques form part of ‘sociophysics ’ an approach that has emerged slowly, but with increasing speed, over the last thirty years. This paper reports on two studies by the authors relating to the adoption of new technologies by a stylized virtual community comprising thousands of agents. The first case emphasizes the physics aspects of sociophysics in seeking to assess how a social system responds when confronted with potentially fashionable new technologies. In that example one of two new technologies is visible to neighboring residential agents and complex phenomena are seen to emerge depending upon the initial parameterization of the society. These phenomena are reminiscent of phase transition physics. The second set of examples, while modeled entirely separately, has a similar starting point, but seeks to give its agents a more realistic decision rule. Building upon ideas from marketing and the social sciences the agents in this latter work form their decisions according to Icek Ajzen’s 1991 Theory of Planned Behavior. Both sets of simulations reveal lessons of possible benefit to policy-makers concerned with technology adoption. The work reported here uses exemplary scenarios relating to one such area of technology policy – the need for new electricity end-use technologies, which favor significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions

Topics: Key words, Complexity, Agent-Based Simulation, Sociophysics, Small World, Technology Adoption 1
Year: 2011
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