Adaptive group coordination and role differentiation

Roberts, M. E., & Goldstone, R. L. (2011).  Adaptive Group Coordination and Role Differentiation.  PLoS One, 6, 1-8.

Many real world situations (potluck dinners, academic departments, sports teams, corporate divisions, committees, seminar classes, etc.) involve actors adjusting their contributions in order to achieve a mutually satisfactory group goal, a win-win result. However, the majority of human group research has involved situations where groups perform poorly because task constraints promote either individual maximization behavior or diffusion of responsibility, and even successful tasks generally involve the propagation of one correct solution through a group. Here we introduce a group task that requires complementary actions among participants in order to reach a shared goal. Without communication, group members submit numbers in an attempt to collectively sum to a randomly selected target number. After receiving group feedback, members adjust their submitted numbers until the target number is reached. For all groups, performance improves with task experience, and group reactivity decreases over rounds. Our empirical results provide evidence for adaptive coordination in human groups, and as the coordination costs increase with group size, large groups adapt through spontaneous role differentiation and self-consistency among members. We suggest several agent-based models with different rules for agent reactions, and we show that the empirical results are best fit by a flexible, adaptive agent strategy in which agents decrease their reactions when the group feedback changes. The task offers a simple experimental platform for studying the general problem of group coordination while maximizing group returns, and we distinguish the task from several games in behavioral game theory.

Download PDF version of this paper