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Understanding Social Behaviour with the Help of Complexity Science (Invited Article)


Charlotte K. Hemelrijk, Department of Information Technology and Anthropological Institute and Museum, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstr. 190, CH-8057 Zurich, Switzerland. E-mail:


In the study of complexity, a new kind of explanation has been developed for social behaviour. It shows how patterns of social behaviour can arise as a side-effect of the interaction of individuals with their social or physical environment (e.g. by self-organization). This development may influence our ideas about the direct causation and evolution of social behaviour. Furthermore, it may influence our theories about the integration of different traits. This new method has been made possible by the increase in computing power. It is now applied in many areas of science, such as physics, chemistry, sociology and economics. However, in zoology and anthropology it is still rare. The major aim of this paper is to make this method more generally accepted among behavioural scientists.