Using Quantum Physics to Explain Thoughts and Behaviors

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With the quantum approach, Wang and her colleagues argued, many different and complex aspects of behavior can be explained with the same limited set of axioms.

The same quantum model that explains how question order changes people’s survey answers also explains violations of rationality in the prisoner’s dilemma paradigm, an effect in which people cooperate even when it’s in their best interest not to do so.

Wang believes the quantum model is an elegant explanation for explaining human behavior.

When researchers try to study human behavior using only classical mathematical models of rationality, some aspects of human behavior do not compute. From the classical point of view, those behaviors seem irrational, Wang explained.

For instance, scientists have long known that the order in which questions are asked on a survey can change how people respond. This effect was previously thought to be due to vaguely labeled reasons such as “carry-over effects” and “anchoring and adjustment,” or noise in the data.

As a result, survey organizations normally change the order of questions between respondents, hoping to cancel out this effect. But in an article published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Wang and collaborators demonstrated that the effect can be precisely predicted and explained by a quantum-like aspect of people’s behavior.

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