Research Areas in the Social Sciences
Researchers in applied microeconomics use data on the behavior of economic agents, markets, and institutions to understand issues in industrial organization, public finance, two-sided markets, and political institutions. They leverage the empirical implications of theoretical economic models, and they test and estimate those models using the latest econometric and statistical techniques. Many studies in applied microeconomics make substantive methodological contributions and at the same time have immediate policy implications.
Researchers in business, economics, and management focus on the areas of finance, strategy, law, e-commerce, auction design, industrial organizations, and the design of institutions (organizations, markets, and networks) in free-market, competitive, or political environments. Their research is highly interdisciplinary—drawing upon expertise in business, economics, political science, psychology, and mathematics, among other areas. It is highly analytical, employing a wide range of theoretical tools, models, and design mechanics.
Researchers who bridge economics and computer science use rigorous mathematical and computational tools to study financial transactions, economic issues, and the structures of social organizations that have been made exceedingly complex by e-commerce, the Internet age, and other aspects of a wired and more fast-paced society. Their work has the potential to lead to new and improved designs for financial markets and systems, network protocols, and political processes.
Researchers in economic history focus on understanding the evolution and performance of political and economic institutions over the long term in order to better understand how economies function today. They are particularly interested in how economic performance is enhanced or constrained through policy making and institutions that create and enforce rules that determine who votes, and how capital and labor markets and fiscal institutions operate.
Researchers in economic theory develop mathematical models to better explain and clarify the fundamental factors behind individual and group economic behaviors. They analyze how individuals make decisions in economic and political situations, and they look for ways to optimize and enhance game theory tools, strategic networks, matching models, and information aggregation either via markets or through voting.
Researchers in experimental social science use experimental techniques and technologies to test theories of economic and political behavior. In particular, they analyze a wide range of issues in game theory, decision theory, market design, and problems of public-goods provision. Their work builds upon a legacy of path-breaking work in the field of experimental social science, which was pioneered by Caltech faculty.
Researchers in political economy combine their insights and expertise from the fields of economics, political science, law, history, finance, and social and management sciences to study nonmarket decision making. Their investigations delve into the study of political institutions, collective action, international relations, political behavior, the role of government, the design of constitutions, and the complex interconnections between the market economy and nonmarket institutions, such as governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and how they are helping to inform progress in some of society's most critical policy areas.
Researchers in political science study and look for trends, problems, and opportunities for improvement in all areas of government, from election processes to political economies and the creation and implementation of public policy. Their investigations are particularly strong in the areas of voting behavior, voting confidence, and election technologies.
Researchers in social and decision neuroscience (SDN) apply traditional tools and techniques from the fields of social science and neuroscience to investigations that deepen understanding of how the human brain makes personal and social choices. Using bioimaging, fMRI, and eye-tracking technologies, they are able to find and analyze regions of the brain that are active during times of uncertainty, motivation, and learning, and also when the brain is engaged in social cognition and decision making. Taken together, these studies are helping to build a biological understanding of human behavior as part of Caltech's broader neuroscience initiative to explore and understand the instricacies and complexities of the brain's structure and function at all scales through the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience.
Researchers in statistical methodology integrate the principles of probability theory and statistical inference with statistical computing and data analysis to better explain and predict human behavior. This objective requires understanding and managing uncertainty in various areas of human endeavor, including economics, finance, political science, econometrics, and experimental economics. Models of particular interest in this field include treatment effect or causal models. The more important quantitative methods include regression, experimental design, and large-sample theory.