Two souls, alas!, are dwelling in my breast: Understanding motive conflicts using agent-based modeling and dynamical systems theory

  • Stefan Westermann (Universität Bern, Switzerland)
A3 02 (Seminar room)


Motives such as affiliation and autonomy orchestrate experience and behavior in order to satisfy psychological needs and protect them from violation (Grawe, 1998). Motives can be in conflict with each other (Epstein, 2003); for example, an individual with an affiliation-autonomy-conflict might experience being part of a group as threat for autonomy, but being alone as violation of his or her need for affiliation. There is evidence that conflicts between motives are accompanied by diminished well-being (e.g., Gray, Ozer, & Rosenthal, 2017), but the underlying dynamics are not well understood.

After briefly introducing concepts from motivational psychology, two studies will be presented. In study 1, an agent-based model of intrapersonal conflict between motives (within an individual) is formulated and informed by empirical data from the daily life of students (Westermann, Berger, Steiner, & Banisch, 2017). In study 2, a dynamic system model of interpersonal conflict between affiliation motives (of two individuals) is developed based on equations from population dynamics (Holland & DeAngelis, 2010; Revilla, 2015).

The studies are a starting point for a computational clinical psychology that explains the formation and maintenance of psychological problems using empirically informed mathematical modeling and simulation. In addition, the motivational perspective on experience and behavior is expected to be of use for other disciplines that model individual and social behavior (e.g., motive-driven opinion dynamics).

Epstein, S. (2003). Cognitive-experiential self-theory of personality. In T. Millon & M. J. Lerner (Eds), Comprehensive Handbook of Psychology, Volume 5: Personality and Social Psychology (pp. 159-184). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons.
Grawe, K. (1998). Psychologische Therapie [Psychological therapy]. Hogrefe, Verlag für Psychologie.
Gray, J. S., Ozer, D. J., & Rosenthal, R. (2017). Goal conflict and psychological well-being: A meta-analysis. Journal of Research in Personality, 66, 27–37. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2016.12.003
Holland, J. N., & DeAngelis, D. L. (2010). A consumer-resource approach to the density-dependent population dynamics of mutualism. Ecology, 91(5), 1286-1295. doi:10.1890/09-1163.1
Revilla, T. A. (2015). Numerical responses in resource-based mutualisms: A time scale approach. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 378, 39-46. doi:10.1016/j.jtbi.2015.04.012
Westermann, S., Berger, T., Steiner, F., & Banisch, S. (2017, September). Paper presented at the Social Simulation Conference, Dublin, Ireland. Retrieved from

Katharina Matschke

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