The challenge of modeling complexity in the social sciences illustrated with an example: the communication between GP and Patients

Cor van Dijkum, Niek Lam, William Verheul


Social scientists realized in the last decennia, inspired by colleagues in the natural sciences, that many phenomena in the social world can be viewed as complex social systems. Through systems theory one recognizes that events are interrelated, interact with each other and make up systems. With dynamic systems theory one understand that social systems evolve in time, moved by cause-effect relations between events that can be described mathematically in differential equations. With the idea of ‘complex social systems’ one comprehend that those differential equations are nonlinear, reflecting systems that are difficult to follow and predict. We develop in this study a complex model with nonlinear feedback loops of the communication between a General Practitioner (GP) and his patient with the aid of system dynamics software. We compare the output of that model with video observation data of the communication between GP’s and their patients. Moreover with the aid of data analysis software SPSS we compare the pattern of the video observation data with the pattern of the output of the data and validate the model in a qualitative way.


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