Seth Frey

headshot, Seth Frey

Position Title
Associate Professor

376 Kerr Hall


  • Ph.D. in Cognitive Science and Informatics at Indiana University, 2013
  • B.A. in Cognitive Science from UC Berkeley, 2004


I am a computational social scientist who studies common-pool resource governance institutions, and other examples of complex human decision behavior, using computational methods, large datasets, and web-based experiments. I focus on online communities, treating them as models of governance. My expertise is in computational approaches to institutions and the cognitive science of strategic behavior.

I am a professor in Communication at UC Davis, in the Computational Communication lab, and an affiliate of the Ostrom Workshop at Indiana University. Previously I was a behavioral economist at Disney Research Zurich, a part of Walt Disney Imagineering. I am a UC graduate, from Berkeley.

My work has appeared in PNASNature Scientific Reports, and Proceedings of the Royal Society. It has been covered in The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, and TEDx. It has been funded by the NSF, NASA, Ford Foundation, and the Google Open Source Foundation.

Research Focus

I work on data from games, sports, online communities, and theme parks, using approaches of data science, lab experiments, and computational modeling to answer quantitative questions about human organizations, institutions, and communication. Some relevant research keywords include computational social science, strategic behavior, higher-level reasoning, science of cooperatives, Ostrom Workshop, quantitative models of institutional evolution, online games, online communities, self-governance, cooperatives.

Students or aspiring graduate students:

"Smartness" aside, if you like being busy and pushing yourself, if you can fake it till you make it, if you read a lot and enjoy thinking about humanity and going down personal research rabbit holes, try imagining yourself with a PhD. If on top of all that you like ideas and intellectual freedom more than money, you might be a fit for academia!

My topics are diverse, but they generally have to do with governance technology or the reasoning/cognitive mechanisms of social-scale outcomes. If you are interested in a data science training, particularly its applications at the intersection of communication, cognition, games, complex systems, or any combination of the other keywords, I'd be happy to talk.



Complete publications, via Google Scholar



  • CMN 212 Web Science Research Methods
  • CMN 213 Simulation Methods in Communication Research