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An evolutionary model of long tailed distributions in the social sciences

R. Alexander Bentley, Paul Ormerod, Michael Batty

posted on 19 March 2009

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Studies of collective human behavior in the social sciences, often grounded in details of actions by individuals, have much to offer `social' models from the physical sciences concerning elegant statistical regularities. Drawing on behavioral studies of social influence, we present a parsimonious, stochastic model, which generates an entire family of real-world right-skew socio-economic distributions, including exponential, winner-take-all, power law tails of varying exponents and power laws across the whole data. The widely used Albert-Barabasi model of preferential attachment is simply a special case of this much more general model. In addition, the model produces the continuous turnover observed empirically within those distributions. Previous preferential attachment models have generated specific distributions with turnover using arbitrary add-on rules, but turnover is an inherent feature of our model. The model also replicates an intriguing new relationship, observed across a range of empirical studies, between the power law exponent and the proportion of data represented.