Chaos and Complexity Theory

Researcher - Dr. Stephen Guastello


“Chaos and Complexity Theory” is comprised of a set of mathematical concepts that describe how systems change over time. Many events that appear random are actually predictable with the use of specialized mathematical functions.  There are many possible patterns, however, and the challenge is to find the right function for a given situation. To see some of the basic ideas and applications of chaos and complexity, please visit the Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology and Life Sciences website.

Our lab recently completed a substantial experiment (an emergency response simulation) that involved a combination of group-level workload and fatigue, situation awareness, and several other group dynamics using some of these nonlinear mathematical models and concepts. A distinctive feature of the work concerns synchronized autonomic arousal when team members participate in tasks and the impact of synchrony on team performance and social dynamics. Synchrony is a close mimicry in body movements, speech patterns, autonomic arousal, or EEG activity within a group or team. Synchrony often reflects team coordination when a situation requires physical movements that are exactly timed, but it can also occur spontaneously as a result of emotional contagion, empathy, common focus of attention, or regularities in timing in the activity or environment. We are still analyzing data from the project. Our research strategies are outgrowths from our development of a statistical measure of synchrony that can be used with data from groups of more than three individuals. 


We are always on the lookout for new opportunities to connect nonlinear concepts with psychological phenomena (and data!). Historically, some of our projects have been larger-scale and long-term and others have been smaller-scale and starting some new directions. All students in the lab should expect to become involved in projects during the formative stages, data collection and analysis, and theoretical interpretation.

New undergraduate research assistants should, ideally, have completed PSYC 2001 (statistics) and PSYC 2050 (research methods) and be available for at least two semesters for course credit. Other types of research experience or computer skills are also welcome and encouraged.

E-mail Dr. Stephen Guastello to get more information about his research and the position.