How mathematical models of game theory might help to understand processes seemingly embedded in culture? Games with funny names such as Stag Hunt, Chicken or Pig and Piglet illustrate various mechanisms of human interaction. They are valued by researchers from fields such as economy and sociology not only for their simplicity and elegance, but also for their predictive powers.
As the choice is not always as simple as right or left, those multiple Nash equilibria games provide an abundance of research questions. Those most interesting for me concern the influence of communication (or lack of it) and the impact of social situation on the result of coordination.
Have you ever wondered how you manage to “magically” meet with your loved one in a huge shopping mall even when both your phones are dead? Many people would argue that the chances of coordinating when we have no means to communicate are completely random. However, it has been proved that such tacit coordination is possible, and since Thomas Schelling’s publication of Strategy and Conflict (where he described the phenomenon of focal points), many economists, sociologists, psychologists and philosophers have been trying to figure out how it works exactly (telepathic mind-reading not being a viable explanation).
It would seem obvious then that so called “cheap talk”, i.e. costless pre-play communication, should improve the coordination between people in coordination games. If they know they will be better off if they choose the same strategy, they should easily agree on doing just that and act accordingly. However, the situation changes when the payoffs are not symmetric (one player will get more than the other when they both choose a certain option): does communication help or impede coordination? Another interesting question is how non-verbal communication can influence this process.
It is fascinating to observe how the coordination changes when the status of players is unequal and the payoffs (any kinds of profit) are asymmetric. Let’s imagine that it is a PhD student and his/her supervisor that need to coordinate on a meeting point, and one place is more convenient for the professor than the other. It has been experimentally proved that even in the situation when neither of players can call, text nor send threatening e-mail to the other), the player with lower status (e.g. a mere PhD student) will choose the same strategy as the player with higher status (e.g. a tenured professor) in order to coordinate, despite the fact that this strategy is less convenient for him than for the professor.
My research focus is two-fold: on the one hand I attempt to analyse how such social phenomena as social status or power relations influence tacit coordination. On the other, I am searching for means that could enhance and facilitate this kind of coordination between people. I am currently designing a series of experiments that will help to find out more about these mechanisms.
About the Author
Weronika Boruc is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology at the Polish Academy of Sciences. She graduated from Warsaw University (MA in Culture Studies) and College of Europe (MA in Interdisciplinary European Studies). Her main scientific interests lie in the studies of cultural differences, social stratification and applying game theoretical tools to social phenomena.