Toward a Unified Theory of Socio-Behavioral Processes

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IZA Seminar

Place: Schaumburg-Lippe-Str. 9, 53113 Bonn

Date: 30.06.2004, 12:15 - 13:30


Presentation by 

Guillermina Jasso (New York University)


A central goal of scientific work is “to explain more and more by less and less.” The “more and more” refers to observable phenomena, spanning potentially all areas of human behavior, from family and crime to gifts and war. The “less and less” refers to the key basic processes whose unfolding and operation touches all the observables and which hold the promise of unification in a deeper theory. The point of departure for this paper is the idea that there are (at least) four basic sociobehavioral processes – status , power, identity, and comparison – which singly or in combination govern a wide range of phenomena. Recent work suggests that comparison theory, status theory, and identity theory all have at their core the same set of three elements and thus these theories are ripe for unification. This paper takes the next step and develops a unified framework. In this framework, status, power, and comparison are primordial sociobehavioral engines, which operate by reference to individuals’ personal quantitative and qualitative characteristics and which produce identities. Each identity is a bundle consisting of three elements, one from each of three sets: (1) personal quantitative characteristics (such as beauty or wealth); (2) personal qualitative characteristics (such as race or gender); and (3) primordial sociobehavioral outcomes (such as status, power, or the sense of being justly treated). A person, in turn, is viewed as a collection of identities, and can be meaningfully characterized by the configuration of the elements in the identities. Similarly, a group, as a collection of persons, can also be meaningfully characterized by the configuration of the elements in the persons’ identities. A key feature of the unified framework is that it enables systematic derivation of predictions for a wide range of observables not only from each of the component processes but also from a deeper process in which status, power, and comparison processes are in competition with each other. Moreover, because the quantitative characteristics which play a part in the generation of identities may be cardinal or ordinal, there is a ready way to contrast materialistic and nonmaterialistic individuals and societies. Further, the unified framework makes it possible to analyze two kinds of subgroups, the pre-existing subgroups formed by the categories of qualitative characteristics and the emergent subgroups generated by operation of the primordial sociobehavioral engines. Together these tools provide a powerful apparatus for deriving testable predictions. In this paper, we apply the new tools to two models, a model of social distance between (pre-existing) subgroups and a model of individual loyalty to self, (pre-existing) subgroup, or group. The loyalty model thus gives rise to three emergent subgroups, the Selfistas, the Subgroupistas, and the Groupistas, each containing a coalition from among the pre-existing subgroups. Predictions cover the effects, on social distance and loyalty, of the ruling primordial sociobehavioral outcome, whether the group is materialistic or nonmaterialistic, the distributional form of material goods, and the proportions in the (pre-existing) subgroups. Because the social distance and loyalty predictions are obtained from the unified theory, they have many cousins in other domains, and the paper presents a sampling of additional predictions.

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