Dr. Jim Larson
Research Summary


I am a social psychologist, though my research is informed as well by the disciplines of industrial/organizational psychology and organizational behavior.  My research is concerned with the behavior and performance of small interacting groups (usually 2 to 6 people) as they attempt to solve problems and make decisions.  Real world examples of such groups include teams of physicians diagnosing patient illnesses, hiring committees selecting job candidates, and flight crews solving unexpected problems caused by poor weather or equipment failures.  The overarching goal of my work is to improve our understanding of the factors that impact group effectiveness, with a special emphasis on how groups handle decision-relevant information and how their information-handling capabilities affect the decisions they make.  A link to my curriculum vitae is provided at the bottom of this page.

Current Work

Currently, my efforts in this area are focused on developing agent-based models (ABMs) that can account for various group phenomena observed in empirical studies.  An ABM is, most simply, a computer program written to predict and explain some aspect of behavior.  In my case, the behavior is that of small interacting groups.  An ABM can be viewed as a formal expression of theory that serves the same function as any verbally expressed theory you might read about in a textbook or research journal.

An ABM simulates one or more people (agents) that interact with their environment and with each other using flexible behavioral repertoires.  Each agent is programmed with a set of processes (e.g., for learning, remembering, communicating with others) presumed to be important for generating the target behavior, and each acts autonomously vis-à-vis its environment and other agents according to its own preferences, goals, and interaction strategies.  Like any theory, an ABM is both a simplification and an abstraction of reality.  As such, the generative processes programmed into it need not be represented in every detail.  However, those details that are represented should be realistic, in the sense of being consistent with the current state of knowledge in the field.

Once programmed, an ABM is “run” so that its implications for the agents’ behavior—both individually and collectively—can be observed.  Those implications constitute the model’s predictions about real human behavior.  Expressing theory formally in this manner has a number of advantages over verbal expressions of theory, including greater specify in the operation of causal mechanisms, substantially greater capacity for handling complexity, more systematic derivation of hypotheses, and the ability to quantify in advance the precision of the predictions that are made.

At the bottom of this page you will find links to two working ABM examples.  The first, DISM-GD, can be run directly from your browser.  The second, ValSeek(2.0), can also be run, but is a desktop application that must first be downloaded to your computer.

Student Research Experience

I no longer teach classroom-based courses on a regularly basis.  I do, however, continue to work individually with one or two students a year on ABM projects.  Students who work with me learn to write computer code in an agent-based modeling environment, and apply those skills to the theoretical understanding of the phenomena being modeled.  This work can be done for 3 hours of PSYC 397 and/or PSYC 399 credit, and/or can evolve into an honors thesis project.

Students who apply to work with me must have at least junior standing, a GPA of 3.5 or better, a demonstrated interest in both Psychology and in computer programming (the latter might be evidenced, for example, by being a Computer Science minor, by having significant coding experience in a common programming language, or something similar), be willing to make at least a 2-semester commitment, and be self-directed and able to work effectively with only minimum technical supervision.  Interested students should contact me directly: jlarson4@luc.edu.

  Curriculum Vitae

  DISM-GD: A Browser-Based Example of an ABM

   ValSeek(2.0): A Downloadable Example of an ABM

   Sample Materials used in Larson et al. (2016)