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Convention in Joint Activity*

Richard Alterman
Andrew Garland

Computer Science Department
Center for Complex Systems
Brandeis University
Waltham, MA 02254

Technical Report: CS-98-199
November, 1998


Conventional behaviors develop from practice for regularly occurring problems of coordination within a community of actors. A convention is a predisposition for participants in a joint activity to expect certain points of coordination to develop during the course of the activity. The expected points of coordination form a design for activity; they evolve over time to match changes in circumstances. Because of uncertainty, interruptions, and numerous other opportunities to get off-track and out-of-synch, the participants must work jointly and continuously to achieve conventional coordination. Convention is measured by the reduction in the amount of work needed by participants in a joint activity to achieve common goals.

The computational model presented in the paper details the emergence of convention in circumstances where there is no ruling body of knowledge developed by prior generations of actors within the community to guide behavior. One feature of the model is that the community improves its performance despite the fact that individual actors reason independently about their experiences. Another important feature of our model is that the mechanisms for improving behavior are tied to the memory function of individual actors. An analysis of a large set of computational experiments supports the theoretical position that is developed on conventional behavior.


*This work was supported in part by ONR (N00014-96-1-0440). Additional funding was provided by NSF (ISI-9634102).

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Last Update: March 10, 1999 by Andy Garland