Economics and Philosophy

On the principle of coordination

Maarten C. W. Janssen a1
a1 Erasmus University Rotterdam


On many occasions, individuals are able to coordinate their actions. The first empirical evidence to this effect has been described by Schelling (1960) in an informal experiment. His results were corroborated many years later by Mehta et al. (1994a,b) and Bacharach and Bernasconi (1997). From the point of view of mainstream game theory, the success of individuals in coordinating their actions is something of a mystery. If there are two or more strict Nash equilibria, mainstream game theory has no means of explaining why people tend to choose their part of one and the same equilibrium. Textbooks (see, e.g., Rasmusen, 1989 and Kreps, 1990) refer to the fact that players may use focal points (see Schelling (1960)) or social conventions (see Lewis (1969)). Both notions cannot easily be incorporated into mainstream game theory, however. The notion of social conventions has recently been extensively studied in the context of evolutionary game theory where a population of agents interacts with each other. The central focus of this paper, however, is on situations where a few players play a game only once and I study how they may coordinate their actions.