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On being the right size: Scaling and psychological laws

Wednesday 26 November 2008, 1600-1700
Fylde Senior Common Room

A celebrated article by J. B. S. Haldane observed that scale is important for many biological structures: the legs of a 10 foot spider would collapse under its weight. Yet there are many biological phenomena where scale does not seem to matter.

Indeed, allometrics and comparative anatomy have revealed many remarkable "scaling laws," akin to those ubiquitous in physics. This talk asks: what about psychology?

In this talk, Nick Chater of The Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, UCL, will report joint work with Gordon Brown indicating that:

  • A good proportion of "psychological laws" follow immediately the assumption that scale does not matter
  • Interesting (and sometimes familiar) models of simple behaviors can be generated purely by assuming that scale is not important
  • Following Haldane's line in biology, there should be particular theoretical interest in cases where data and models indicate that scale does matter, as this may reveal limits of, and transitions between, underlying mechanisms.

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