AC4’s Peter Coleman and others published in PLOS ONE: Behavioral and Emotional Dynamics of Two People Struggling to Reach Consensus

Queens College, City University of New York


–Behaviors and Emotions are More Independent than Previously Thought–

Read the full article here – Behavioral and Emotional Dynamics of Two People Struggling to Reach Consensus about a Topic on Which They Disagree

FLUSHING, N.Y., January 12, 2014 – Quantitative methods, previously used only in the physical sciences, are at the leading edge of how social scientists are analyzing data to understand human behavior.

An international team of researchers, Levent Kurt from the Borough of Manhattan Community College, Kathartina Kugler from the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Peter Coleman from Columbia University, and Larry Liebovitch from Queens College are studying the dynamics of how two people struggle to reach a consensus about a topic on which they disagree.  Their interesting new findings are reported in the January 10, 2014 issue of the prestigious on-line journal PLOS ONE.

Larry Liebovitch says “This work shows how mathematical tools from the physical sciences can shed new light on human behavior”. He adds, “it also demonstrates how novel insights can be achieved by an interdisciplinary team, in this case consisting of a physicist, an organizational psychologist, a conflict resolution expert, and an astrophysicist.”

In their study, audio recordings were made of 20 minute conversations from teams of two people known to have different opinions on topics such as abortion, affirmative action, death penalty, or euthanasia.  Each team was asked to try to prepare a joint statement.  Their behaviors were analyzed from the audio recordings.  After their conversation, they listened to the recordings and were asked to remember their emotions at each moment in time.

The study revealed that people switched between pushing their own ideas (called “proself behavior) and accommodating the other person’s ideas (called “prosocial” behavior).  The longer they continued one type of these behaviors, the less likely they would switch to the other one.  On the other hand, their reported emotional states varied at random, similar to what in physics is called a “random walk”.

The interesting finding from this work is that behavior and emotions seem different.  In this laboratory study, people’s behavior displayed a significant “memory”, their recent past behaviors strongly affected their next behaviors.  On the other hand, their reported emotions did not display such a “memory”, but rather seem to fluctuate at random.

These interesting results are likely to prompt further studies to see if this difference between behavior and emotions also happens in other situations and to further understand its implications for human behavior.

For more information contact: Dr. Larry Liebovitch, larry.liebovitch[at]

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