Computational and Mathematical Organization Theory

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 302–337 | Cite as

Cognitive modeling of socially transmitted affordances: a computational model of behavioral adoption tested against archival data from the Stanford Prison Experiment

  • Benjamin D. Nye


Social learning and adoption of new affordances govern the rise of new a variety of behaviors, from actions as mundane as dance steps to those as dangerous as new ways to make improvised explosive device (IED) detonators. Traditional diffusion models and social network structures fail to adequately explain who would be likely to imitate new behavior and why some agents adopt the behavior while others do not. To address this gap, a cognitive model was designed that represents well-known socio-cognitive factors of attention, social influence, and motivation that influence learning and adoption of new behavior. This model was implemented in the Performance Moderator Function Server (PMFServ) agent-based cognitive architecture, enabling the creation of simulations where affordances spread memetically through cognitive mechanisms. This approach models facets of behavioral adoption that have not been explored by existing architectures: unintentional learning, multi-layered social and environmental attention cues, and contextual adoption. To examine the effectiveness of this model, its performance was tested against data from the Stanford Prison Experiment collected from the Archives of the History of American Psychology.


Social learning Affordances Cognitive modeling Cognitive agents Social influence Memes 



Thank you to the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, whose basic research support made this work possible. Also, my sincere thanks to Professor Zimbardo, who was exceptionally responsive and helpful in arranging my access to the archival Stanford Prison Experiment data. Finally, I would like to give a special thanks to the Archives of the History of American Psychology which graciously allowed me to collect data on-site for many days.


  1. Adomo TW, Frenkel-Brunswik E, Levinson DJ, Sanford RN (1950) The authoritarian personality. Harpers and Bros, New York Google Scholar
  2. Anderson JR (1996) ACT: a simple theory of complex cognition. Am Psychol 51(4):355–365 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Asch SE (1955) Opinions and social pressure. Sci Am 193(5):31–35 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Axelrod R (1973) Schema theory: an information processing model of perception and cognition. Am Polit Sci Rev 67(4):1248–1266 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Axelrod R (1997) Advancing the art of simulation in the social sciences. Complexity 3(2):16–22 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bandura A (1986) Social foundations of thought and action: a social cognitive theory. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs Google Scholar
  7. Bandura A, Ross D, Ross SA (1963) Imitation of film-mediated aggressive models. J Abnorm Soc Psychol 66(1):3–11 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Berger J (2008) Identity-signaling, social influence, and social contagion. In: Prinstein MJ, Dodge KA (eds) Understanding peer influence in children and adolescents. Guilford, New York Google Scholar
  9. Bornstein RF (1989) Exposure and affect: overview and metaanalysis of research, 1968–1987. Psychol Bull 106(2):265–289 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Boyd J (1987) Organic design for command and control. In: A discourse on winning and losing Google Scholar
  11. Carley KM (2002) Computational organization science: a new frontier. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 99(Suppl 3)(90003):7257–7262 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Centola D (2010) The spread of behavior in an online social network experiment. Science 329(5996):1194–1197 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cherry CE (1953) Some experiments on the recognition of speech, with one and with two ears. J Acoust Soc Am 25:975–979 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Christakis NA, Fowler JH (2008) The collective dynamics of smoking in a large social network. N Engl J Med 358(21):2249–2258 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Christie R, Geis FL (1970) Studies in machiavellianism. Academic Press, New York Google Scholar
  16. Comrey AL (2008) The Comrey personality scales. In: The SAGE handbook of personality theory and assessment: personality measurement and testing. Sage Publications Ltd, Thousand Oaks Google Scholar
  17. Dawkins R (1976) The selfish gene. Oxford University Press, New York Google Scholar
  18. Edmonds B, Moss S (2005) From KISS to KIDS—an antisimplistic modelling approach. In: Multi-agent and multi-agent-based simulation, pp 130–144 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fazio RH, Roskos-Ewoldsen DR, Powell MC (1994) Attitudes, perception, and attention. In: Niedenthal PM, Kitayama S (eds) The heart’s eye: emotional influences in perception and attention. Academic Press, New York, pp 197–216 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fromm E (1973) The anatomy of human destructiveness. Henry Holt, New York Google Scholar
  21. Gaver WW (1991) Technology affordances. In: Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems: reaching through technology, pp 79–84 Google Scholar
  22. Gibson JJ (1979) The ecological approach to perception. Haughton Mifflin, Boston Google Scholar
  23. Gibson JJ (1986) The ecological approach to visual perception. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah Google Scholar
  24. Haney C, Banks WC, Zimbardo PG (1973a) Interpersonal dynamics in a simulated prison. Int J Criminol Penol 1:69–97 Google Scholar
  25. Haney C, Banks WC, Zimbardo PG (1973b) Study of prisoners and guards in a simulated prison. Nav Res Rev 9:1–17 Google Scholar
  26. Hilmert CJ, Kulik JA, Christenfeld NJS (2006) Positive and negative opinion modeling: the influence of another’s similarity and dissimilarity. J Pers Soc Psychol 90(3):440–452 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Jackson BA (2001) Technology acquisition by terrorist groups: threat assessment informed by lessons from private sector technology adoption. Stud Confl Terror 24(3):183–213 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. James W (1890) The principles of psychology. Harvard University Press, Cambridge CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Johnston WA, Hawley KJ, Plewe SH, Elliott JMG, DeWitt MJ (1990) Attention capture by novel stimuli. J Exp Psychol Gen 119(4):397–411 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kameda T, Ohtsubo Y, Takezawa M (1997) Centrality in sociocognitive networks and social influence: an illustration in a group decision-making context. J Pers Soc Psychol 73(2):296–309 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kelley GA (1955) The psychology of personal constructs. WW Norton, New York Google Scholar
  32. Laird JE (2008) Extending the soar cognitive architecture. In: Proceedings of the 2008 conference on artificial general intelligence. IOS Press, Amsterdam, pp 224–235 Google Scholar
  33. Lee DK, Itti L, Koch C, Braun J (1999) Attention activates winner-take-all competition among visual filters. Nat Neurosci 2:375–381 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Mackintosh NJ (1983) Conditioning and associative learning. Oxford University Press, New York Google Scholar
  35. Mantell DM (1971) The potential for violence in Germany. J Soc Issues 27(4):101–112 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Margolius BH (2001) Permutations with inversions. J Integer Seq 4:01.2.4 Google Scholar
  37. Michaels CF (2003) Affordances: four points of debate. Ecol Psychol 15(2):135–148 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Milgram S (2004) Behavioral study of obedience. In: Scheper-Hughes N, Bourgois SP, Bourgois PI (eds) Violence in war and peace. Blackwell Publishers, Boston Google Scholar
  39. Nye BD (2011) Modeling memes: a memetic view of affordance learning. Doctoral dissertation, University of Pennsylvania Google Scholar
  40. Nye BD, Silverman BG (2012) Affordance(s). In: Seel NM (ed) Encyclopedia of the sciences of learning. Springer, New York Google Scholar
  41. O’Brien SP (2010) Crisis early warning and decision support: contemporary approaches and thoughts on future research. Int Stud Rev 12(1):87–104 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Petty RE, Cacioppo JT (1986) The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion. Adv Exp Soc Psychol 19:123–205 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Platow MJ, Haslamb SA, Botha A, Chewa I, Cuddona M, Goharpeya N, Maurera J, Rosinia S, Tsekourasa A, Grace DM (2005) “It’s not funny if they’re laughing”: self-categorization, social influence, and responses to canned laughter. J Exp Soc Psychol 41(5):542–550 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Posner MI, Snyder CR, Davidson BJ (1980) Attention and the detection of signals. J Exp Psychol 109(2):160–174 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Ray ML, Sawyer AG, Strong EC (1971) Frequency effects revisited. J Advert Res 11(1):14–20 Google Scholar
  46. Reicher S, Haslam SA (2006) Rethinking the psychology of tyranny: the BBC prison study. Br J Soc Psychol 45(1):1–40 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Rogers EM (1962) Diffusion of innovations. Free Press, New York Google Scholar
  48. Rogers EM (1995) Diffusion of innovations. Free Press, New York Google Scholar
  49. Roskos-Ewoldsen DR, Fazio RH (1992) On the orienting value of attitudes: attitude accessibility as a determinant of an object’s attraction of visual attention. J Pers Soc Psychol 63(2):198–211 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Schreiber C, Carley KM (2007) Agent interactions in construct: an empirical validation using calibrated grounding. In: 2007 conference on behavior representation in modeling and simulation (BRIMS). SISO, Norfolk Google Scholar
  51. Shannon CE (1948) A mathematical theory of communication. Key papers in the development of information theory. Retrieved May 2010, from
  52. Shibuya H, Bundesen C (1988) Visual selection from multielement displays: measuring and modeling effects of exposure duration. J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 14(4):591–600 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Sikstrom S (1999) Power function forgetting curves as an emergent property of biologically plausible neural network models. Int J Psychol 34(5):460–464 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Silverman BG (2004) Toward realism in human performance simulation. In: Ness JW, Tepe V, Ritzer DR (eds) The science and simulation of human performance, vol 5. JAI Press, London, pp 469–498 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Silverman BG, Bharathy GK (2005) Modeling the personality & cognition of leaders. In: 2005 conference on behavior representation in modeling and simulation (BRIMS). SISO, Norfolk Google Scholar
  56. Silverman BG, Might R, Dubois R, Shin H, Johns M, Weaver R (2001) Toward a human behavior models anthology for synthetic agent development. In: 10th conference on computer generated forces and behavioral representation Google Scholar
  57. Silverman BG, Johns M, Cornwell JB, O’Brien K (2006) Human behavior models for agents in simulators and games: part I. enabling science with PMFserv. Presence, Teleoper Virtual Environ 15(2):139–162 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Silverman BG, Bharathy GK, Nye BD, Eidelson RJ (2007a) Modeling factions for “effects based operations”: part I. Leader and follower behaviors. J Comput Math Organ Theory 13(4):379–406 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Silverman BG, Bharathy GK, Johns M, Eidelson RJ, Smith TE, Nye BD (2007b) Socio-cultural games for training and analysis. IEEE Trans Syst Man Cybern, Part A, Syst Hum 37(6):1113–1130 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Silverman BG, Pietrocola D, Nye BD, Weyer N, Osin O, Johnson D, Weaver R (2012) Rich socio-cognitive agents for immersive training environments—case of NonKin Village. Auton Agents Multi-Agent Syst 24(2):312–343 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Simons DJ, Chabris CF (1999) Gorillas in our midst: sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events. Perception 28:1059–1074 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Sun R (2007) Cognitive social simulation incorporating cognitive architectures. IEEE Intell Syst 22(5):33–39 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Tajfel H (1982) Social psychology of intergroup relations. Annu Rev Psychol 33(1):1–39 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Tanford S, Penrod S (1984) Social influence model: a formal integration of research on majority and minority influence processes. Psychol Bull 95(2):189–225 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Tomasello M, Davis-Dasilva M, Camak L, Bard K (1987) Observational learning of tool-use by young chimpanzees. Hum Evol 2(2):175–183 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Treisman AM, Gelade G (1980) A feature-integration theory of attention. Cogn Psychol 12(1):97–136 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Vilpponen A, Winter S, Sundqvist S (2006) Electronic word-of-mouth in online environments: exploring referral network structure and adoption behavior. J Interact Advert 6(2):71–86 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Vygotsky LS (1980) Mind in society. Harvard University Press, Cambridge Google Scholar
  69. Wood R, Baxter P, Belpaeme T (2011) A review of long-term memory in natural and synthetic systems. Adapt Behav 20(2):81–103 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Zentall TR (2007) Imitation: definitions, evidence, and mechanisms. Anim Cogn 9(4):335–353 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Zimbardo PG (2007) The Lucifer effect: how good people turn evil. Rider, London Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ackoff Center for Advancement of Systems ApproachesUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

Personalised recommendations