How do norms emerge? In small groups, people have complete knowledge of one another's behaviors, making it relatively easy to create shared expectations. In larger groups, reaching a consensus or convention on basic behaviors such as how to greet one another, which side of the road to drive on, and what constitutes a "fair" bargaining outcome, can be established by top down, authoritative decree. However, most examples of large-scale patterns of social coordination do not rely upon global control, nor can they always assume common knowledge among all members of a group, or pre-existing cultural “focal points” that will provide familiar references for social self-organization.
To study which, if any, of these mechanisms is essential for the norm formation process, we developed a novel online social networking environment in which large groups of participants interact in real time to interdependently arrive at shared linguistic norms. Our study examines the fundamental social features that are necessary for successful self-organization, and identifies the cognitive strategies that produce coherent patterns of social order.