Random deviations improve micro-macro predictions: An empirical test

Maes, M. & Helbing, D., 22-Nov-2017, In : Sociological Methods & Research.

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Many sociological theories make critically different macro-predictions when their micro-assumptions are implemented stochastically rather than deterministically. Deviations from individuals’ behavioral patterns described by micro-theories can spark cascades that change macro-outcomes, even when deviations are rare and random. With two experiments, we empirically tested whether macro-phenomena can be critically shaped by random deviations. 96 percent of participants’ decisions were in line with a deterministic theory of bounded rationality. Despite this impressive micro-level accuracy, the deterministic model failed to predict the observed macro- outcomes. However, a stochastic version of the same micro-theory largely improved macro-predictions. The stochastic model also correctly predicted the conditions under which deviations mattered. Results also supported the hypothesis that non-random deviations can result in fundamentally different macro-outcomes than random deviations. In conclusion, we echo the warning that deterministic micro-theories can be misleading. Our findings show that taking into account deviations in sociological theories can improve explanations and predictions.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSociological Methods & Research
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22-Nov-2017

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