Tacit coordination occurs when parties have to coordinate but communication is not possible. People are able to coordinate remarkably successfully through the use of focal points, choices that possess some characteristic that makes them significant to both parties. While a great deal of research has been undertaken to understand the mechanisms of focal points themselves, little research has directly and empirically investigated the role of the identity of the coordination partner. This study aimed to identify the effects of social distance, age, ethnicity and gender on tacit coordination in order to understand more about the contextual sensitivity of tacit coordination.
An empirical repeated-measures design was used to collect data through the playing of two games. The first experiment was tested on 58 pairings of individuals, 29 pairs of strangers and 29 pairs of colleagues who knew each other relatively well. Subjects attempted to match choices on a table with their partner. The second experiment used a resource-allocation game with (n = 28) subjects each undergoing four treatments, a control treatment, a treatment with a partner of the opposite gender, a treatment with a partner of a different ethnicity and a partner much older than the subject.
Results overall revealed that subjects who knew each other outperformed strangers in a matching scenario. Furthermore, subjects who had to share resources were more tentative about claiming resources from partners older than them or belonging to a different ethnicity. This indicates a low level of certainty of the actions of people with different social histories to the subject, as their focal points, saliences and norms are likely to be different. As tacit coordination underpins a large number of social and economic everyday interactions it is interesting to see the impact of a relatively simple visual or social cue on coordination success and coordinating behaviour.
The research concluded with the practical implications of the research and suggestions for future research to build on the foundation of this research project.