Developing Dynamic Models of the Social World: Relevant Tools and Applicable Methods Using the Dynamic Systems Approach

Our social world is highly dynamic and complex. Do you behave the same towards your friends as you do towards your boss, or parents? Does a doctor behave the same towards each patient, or does his or her behaviour depend on who the patients is? the patients is? Is the behaviour of individuals in this sense static, or instead, dynamic? Can we truly understand individuals, based on how they behave on average? Besides phenomenon, such as personality and depression being increasingly modelled as dynamic systems and yielding revelatory insights, groups of people are also dynamic, rather than static. Whether it concerns the interaction of a teacher with students or the rise and fall of (activist) movements, interactions and behaviour are all dynamic processes that evolve over time and in a complex manner. In this course we will teach you how to develop and test dynamic models of the social world.

Course level
Master, PhD candidates and professionals from all disciplines
Session 2
11 January to 18 January 2020 
Coordinating lecturer                                      Jesse T. Vullinghs
Other lecturers
Dr. Edina Doci (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)
Dr. Omar Solinger (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)
Dr. Joeri Hofmans (Vrije Universiteit Brussels)
MSc. Joana Sosnowska (Vrije Universiteit Brussels)
Form(s) of instructionInteractive Seminars, Workshops, and Lab Excursion
Form(s) of assessmentPresentation (20% of final Grade)
Written Research Proposal (80% of final grade)
ECTS3 credits
Contact hours18 hours preparation time (readings before the course starts)
40 contact hours (interactive seminars, workshops, lab excursion)
26 hours on final assignment (research proposal writing)                  
84 hours in total
Tuition fee

€800 - non-VU students and staff

€500 - VU students and staff

This course has been developed for post-grad students from a multitude of backgrounds. The course is especially relevant for academics and practitioners in professional and organizational psychology, applied-psychology, clinical-psychology, and social- psychology.
If you have doubts about your eligibility for the course, please contact us: graduatewinterschool@vu.nl.
Our social world is highly dynamic and complex. Do you behave the same towards your friends as you do towards your boss, or parents? Does a doctor behave the same towards each patient, or does his or her behaviour depend on who the patients is? Is the behaviour of individuals in this sense static, or instead, dynamic? Can we truly understand individuals, based on how they behave on average? Besides phenomenon, such as personality and depression being increasingly modelled as dynamic systems and yielding revelatory insights, groups of people are also dynamic, rather than static. Whether it concerns the interaction of a teacher with students or the rise and fall of (activist) movements, interactions and behaviour are all dynamic processes that evolve over time and in a complex manner.

Despite the inherent dynamics of most (social-)psychological phenomena, most researchers in this area fail to adequately incorporate time in their theorising. The predominant static research approach from the past explains what the predictors and outcomes of social phenomena are, but they provide limited insight in how social phenomena develop, change, and terminate over time. As such, the current scientific knowledge poorly explains to practitioners how they can get from A to B. For example, we know about the predictors and outcomes of high-quality relationships at work, but the predominant research approach does not explain to managers how they can develop sustainable high-quality relationships.

In this course, we will explore the dynamic systems approach within (social-)psychology. The dynamic systems approach offers the language and tools you need to capture the dynamics and complexities of (social-)psychological phenomena. Moreover, the infusion with the systems perspective will allow students to develop theories that account for contextual influences on these processes and thereby develop theories that are closer to the empirical reality.

The course starts by providing a strong theoretical foundation which relies on the fundamentals of the dynamic systems logic (a combination of process thinking and systems thinking). Next, the course will provide you with a set of practical tools and exercises to apply systems thinking and process thinking in your own theorizing on a topic of your choice. We will teach you how to formulate this in a research proposal as well as how to effectively describe the contributions of your new theory to your field of study. Lastly, the course provides you with critical knowledge on innovative methods (e.g., person-centred approaches) to test such new theories.

Throughout the week, there will be several workshops in which we guide and support students in developing their own dynamic theory on a (social-)psychology phenomenon of your choosing. Upon completion of the course, students will have a concrete research proposal outlining their newly developed theory, including a description of the appropriate methodological approach to test the theory empirically. This research can be continued independently as well as be presented to create a strong professional portfolio.

We will spend a full day in the Systems Lab, where we will work with the LEGO® Serious Play® materials and methodology to enhance your systems thinking. Through various exercises, guided by a certified facilitator, you will build systems of your own conceptualizations. This method is highly effective in visualizing a system, the interrelatedness of its parts, and the complexity of its functioning. Moreover, LEGO® Serious Play® materials and methodology stimulates the thinking process differently because you work with both your hands and your head, which is important to disrupt your conventional way of theorizing in order to allow for the new dynamic systems approach that you will be learning.

This course has the following learning objectives:
•    To understand dynamic systems logic;
•    To be able to apply dynamic systems logic to psychological and sociological phenomena;
•    To be able to synthesize various topics within psychology and sociology through a systems perspective;
•    To be able to develop strong process theories within the field of psychology and/or sociology;
•    To be able to formulate the contributions of your new theory;
•    To know various methods that can be used to test dynamic systems theories within the field of psychology and sociology.
The course will use mainly journal articles and a few different book chapters, which will be made available through the canvas page for this course. You are expected to complete the article list before the start of the course.
Vantilborgh, T., Hofmans, J., & Judge, T. A. (2018). The time has come to study dynamics at work. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 39(9), 1045-1049.

Jesse_Vullinghs

Jesse Vullinghs his research focuses on organizational leadership and employee well-being. Especially in the last few years, his research interest has shifted in particular to the temporal dynamics of these two topics and their (dynamic) relationship. In his PhD project at the Vrije Universiteit, he focuses on the interpersonal dynamics in Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) theory, which aims to specify how the relationship between a leader and follower emerges from their interactions over time and how different development scenarios relate to employee well-being and performance.

Additionally, he is involved in various projects on employee well-being that focuses on chronic stress and burnout at work. By focusing on the temporal dynamics and explaining how phenomena develop over time, his research is also particularly relevant for practitioners.

He takes an interdisciplinary approach within his research, for example, by noticing insights and methods from the natural sciences, and using these to create new insight in (social-) psychological phenomena.