Detail from an Impression Figure by Margaret Watts Hughes, pigment on glass, date unknown (recolored). Courtesy of Cyfarthfa Castle Museum and Art Gallery via

Disintegration of societies:

Quantitative modeling of complex socio-behavioral systems


Program OverviewDates & TimesTuition & FeesProgram GoalsVenueFacultyAudienceApplication Requirements


Program Overview

Human societies constantly change at many levels, from individuals to communities and nation states. Throughout history, and at present, societies become more innovative, more integrated, and more cooperative on some levels, while on others they become more inert, more polarized, and more belligerent. To understand and perhaps even predict these trends and their consequences, we need to capture the complex interplay of underlying cognitive, social, and institutional mechanisms – by integrating theoretical, modeling, and empirical investigations.

Ph.D. students are invited to spend two weeks, among an international cohort of students and faculty, learning to integrate theory and methods from a range of disciplines to model socio-behavioral systems and understand their behavior. Participants will explore complex interactions of cognitive, social, and technological mechanisms leading to (dis)integration of different societies in historical and contemporary times. They will hear in-person lectures from leading researchers on the dynamics of beliefs and emotions, the role of social network structures, the influence of algorithms and institutions, and their joint influence on collective outcomes and societal robustness. Hands-on workshops and group research projects using real-world data sets will provide experience modeling complex systems using a range of approaches. In addition to acquiring skills and tools to use in their own research, students will grow their global scientific network and experience the research culture of the EU.

This program is a partnership between the Santa Fe Institute and the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences and Hamburg University of Technology (Germany), Complexity Science Hub Vienna (Austria), Quantitative Life Sciences, International Center for Theoretical Physics (Italy), and Institute for Advanced Studies, University of Amsterdam (Netherlands).

Dates & Times

July 4 – July 15, 2022, plus travel days.

The institute is a full-time (all-day) commitment. Participants are expected to attend the entire program.

Tuition & Fees

There is no tuition for this program.

Students eligible for NSF support – US citizens or permanent residents – will receive an allowance to cover their travel, housing and meals throughout the program, i.e. there is no cost for these students. All other students will be eligible for travel/housing awards made possible through Complexity-GAINs partners. The approximate cost of housing and meals is $90/€76 per day.

Program Support   This program is made possible through the support of the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 2106013 (PI David Krakauer), IRES Track II: Complexity advanced studies institute - Germany, Austria, Italy, Netherlands (Complexity-GAINs). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the investigator(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Program Goals
  • Assess current and future research directions in socio-behavioral systems
  • Understand the research process by which to integrate theory, modeling and empirical analyses
  • Enhance mathematical and computational modeling capacity
  • Establish international collaborations and connections
  • Enrich the diversity of the complex systems research community

The institute takes place in Vienna, Austria, a vibrant, modern center of European sciences and arts. Institute sessions are held at the Technical University of Vienna and on the campus of the Complexity Science Hub Vienna, both near the city center. Participants are accommodated in a student guest house, managed by the OeAD, within easy reach of the institute locations and Vienna's numerous historical, cultural and entertainment amenities.


Complexity-GAINs directors M. Galesic, H. Olsson, S. Thurner

The institute directors for 2022 are:
Mirta Galesic, Professor at the Santa Fe Institute and external faculty at the Complexity Science Hub Vienna. Her research investigates how the intersection of internal cognitive mechanisms and external environment factors leads to complex social phenomenon such as belief dynamics and opinion formation.
Henrik Olsson, external faculty at the Santa Fe Institute. His work focuses on understanding how properties of individual decision strategies and social network structures affect group performance by connecting research in social cognition and decision-making with insights from physics, statistics, and machine learning.
Stefan Thurner, President and faculty member of the Complexity Science Hub Vienna and external faculty at the Santa Fe Institute. His research accomplishments are broad, ranging from foundational physics to economics and finance. His recent work on social systems addresses opinion formation and collective human behavior.

Guest Faculty & Project Experts include: Ronan Arthur • epidemics | Jonas Dalege • belief dynamics | Tamara van der Does • social structure | Carsten de Dreu • social polarization | David Garcia • emotion dynamics | Fariba Karimi • algorithms | Peter Klimek • health care | Steve Lansing • ancient societies | Han van der Maas • belief dynamics | Matteo Marsili • statistical physics | Eckhard Olbrich • political spaces | Sid Redner • statistical physics | Maria del Rio-Chanona • labor economy | Rajiv Sethi • inequality | Roberta Sinatra • networks & popularity | Peter Turchin • cliodynamics


The institute welcomes Ph.D. students from the physical, natural, and quantitative social sciences and mathematics. Prior experience with computational or mathematical modeling is not required, nor is in-depth knowledge of the the workshop's theme. The program is limited to 36 students per year.


  • SFI policy requires participants to provide proof of complete and up-to-date COVID-19 vaccination prior to beginning the program.
  • Students must be enrolled in an accredited, degree-granting Ph.D. program
  • Students should have completed at least one year of Ph.D. coursework and have defined and be pursuing their thesis research, or have completed a substantial independent research project as part of their degree. Students should not yet be in the final stages of their dissertation, e.g. should not be scheduled to defend

The Complexity-GAINs team is committed to offering inclusive educational programs in which all participants feel valued and supported in their learning journey. We believe that human diversity in all of its dimensions is essential to meaningful scientific progress. We believe that open discourse and respectful sharing of broad perspectives is essential for understanding our world and worlds beyond. We work to ensure our educational programs reflect and encourage this diversity and inclusivity, and we welcome you to join us.

Application Requirements

During the application period, access the application through SMApply using the "Apply now" button.

Applicants should provide:

  • Biographical information (filled out directly in the application portal)
  • Current academic cv, including list of publications, if any
  • Two letters of recommendation, including at least one from your thesis advisor or a member of your thesis committee.
  • Research statement, describing your thesis research and how a complex systems approach could benefit your current project or future research directions you might undertake. (max. 1 page)
  • Personal statement, describing your motivation for participation in the Complexity-GAINs institute. The statement should specifically address the international aspect of the program and how this intersects with your broader professional/career goals. (max. 1 page)

Complexity-GAINs International Summer Institute takes place in:

  • 2022 – socio-behavioral systems
  • 2023 – intelligent systems
  • 2024 – ecosystems