The formation of social conventions in real-time environments

Hawkins, R. X. D., & Goldstone, R. L. (2016). The formation of social conventions in real-time environments.  PLoS One, 11(3): e0151670.

Why are some behaviors governed by strong social conventions while others are not? We¬†experimentally investigate two factors contributing to the formation of conventions in a¬†game of impure coordination: the continuity of interaction within each round of play¬†(simultaneous vs. real-time) and the stakes of the interaction (high vs. low differences¬†between payoffs). To maximize efficiency and fairness in this game, players must¬†coordinate on one of two equally advantageous equilibria. In agreement with other¬†studies manipulating continuity of interaction, we find that players who were allowed to¬†interact continuously within rounds achieved outcomes with greater efficiency and¬†fairness than players who were forced to make simultaneous decisions. However, the¬†stability of equilibria in the real-time condition varied systematically and dramatically¬†with stakes: players converged on more stable patterns of behavior when stakes are high.¬†To account for this result, we present a novel analysis of the dynamics of continuous¬†interaction and signaling within rounds. We discuss this previously unconsidered¬†interaction between within-trial and across-trial dynamics as a form of social¬†canalization. When stakes are low in a real-time environment, players can satisfactorily¬†coordinate `on the fly,’ but when stakes are high there is increased pressure to establish¬†and adhere to shared expectations that persist across rounds.

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