A critique of applied catastrophe theory in the behavioral sciences

Hector J. Sussmann, Raphael S. Zahler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Using the war model of Isnard and Zeeman as a paradigm, it is shown that many catastrophe theory models in social science possess serious weaknesses. The catastrophes supposedly account for real‐life behavior, but actually are only a restatement of the fact that discontinuities exist. No deep mathematical results are actually used. The hypotheses are ambiguous or far‐fetched. In addition, Thom's theorem, the mathematical centerpiece of applied catastrophe theory, is inherently uninformative for applications. The theory is helpful on neither the qualitative nor the quantitative level. Finally, better and simpler mathematical tools exist.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)383-389
Number of pages7
JournalBehavioral Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1978

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


  • behavioral science applications
  • catastrophe theory
  • critical review
  • dog aggression model
  • war model


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