Research Areas in the Social Sciences

Baxter Light Fixture, May 1971

Applied Microeconomics

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.

Affiliated Faculty: Federico Echenique, Michael Ewens, Michael Gibilisco, Lawrence Jin, Gabriel Lopez-Moctezuma, Kirby Nielsen, Richard Roll, Matthew Shum, Charles Sprenger, and Yi Xin.

Business, Economics, and Management

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.

Affiliated Faculty: Colin Camerer, Jaksa Cvitanic, Michael Ewens, Alexander V. Hirsch, Lawrence Jin, Jonathan N. Katz, Gabriel Lopez-Moctezuma, Richard Roll, Jean-Laurent Rosenthal, Matthew Shum, and Yi Xin.

Economics and Computer Science

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. 

Affiliated Faculty: Federico Echenique, Eric Mazumdar, and Omer Tamuz.

Economic History

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.

Affiliated Faculty: Tracy Dennison, Philip T. Hoffman, and Jean-Laurent Rosenthal.

Economic Theory

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.

Affiliated Faculty: Marina Agranov, Jaksa Cvitanic, Federico Echenique, Kirby Nielsen, Thomas R. Palfrey, Luciano Pomatto, Kota Saito, Charles Sprenger, and Omer Tamuz.

Experimental Social Science

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.

Affiliated Faculty: Marina Agranov, Colin Camerer, Jean Ensminger, Kirby Nielsen, Thomas R. Palfrey, Antonio Rangel, and Charles Sprenger.

Political Economy

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.

Political Science

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.

Affiliated Faculty: R. Michael Alvarez, Jean Ensminger, Michael Gibilisco, Alexander V. Hirsch, Jonathan N. Katz, Rod Kiewiet, J. Morgan Kousser, Gabriel Lopez-Moctezuma, Peter Ordeshook, and Thomas R. Palfrey.

Social and Decision Neuroscience

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 intricacies and complexities of the brain's structure and function at all scales through the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience.

Affiliated Faculty: Ralph Adolphs, R. Michael Alvarez, Colin Camerer, Dean Mobbs, John O'Doherty, Steven Quartz, and Antonio Rangel.

Statistical Methodology

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.

Affiliated Faculty: R. Michael AlvarezFrederick Eberhardt, Jonathan N. Katz, Gabriel Lopez-Moctezuma, Robert Sherman, Matthew Shum, and Yi Xin.