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Abstract

Human experience reflects the interplay of multiple influences operating on various time scales to promote constantly evolving patterns of thought, emotion, and action. Although the complexity and dynamism of personal and social phenomena have long been recognized, they are difficult to investigate using traditional research methods. This article provides an overview of dynamical social psychology, an approach adapted from dynamical systems theory that is designed to capture the complementary tendencies of stability and dynamism at different levels of social reality, from private thoughts to intergroup relations. Utilizing time-series analyses and computer simulations, this perspective documents the emergence of global properties from the interaction of basic elements in mental and social systems and investigates the time-dependent relation between external influences and a system’s internally generated dynamics. The dynamical approach enables social psychology to advance as a precise science while preserving the basic insights that launched the field over a century ago.