Schelling's Focal Point

Bookmarklets | MOVABLE TYPE Schelling (1960) described the problem face by two non-communicating persons who wish to meet at a common location. According to him, the most important factor is the fact that those people have a common culture that can produce ‘focal points’ (lately called Schelling Points) which enable them to distinguish among several meeting points. The aim of the coordination is to produce a common choice or location for all the players. The Focal Point Concept Originally introduced by Schelling refer to prominent solutions of an interaction, solutions to which agents are drawn.

After Schelling, Alpern (1976) developed two models of this problem in which he replaced the notions of focal points and culture by coordination principles. The first model proposed for discrete settings is called the “rendezvous search problem”. The author removed the possibility of culturally biased focal point through formal symmetry assumptions regarding the locations. The second model is called “coordination game” and information about player’s choice is revealed after each period.

[For my research, I find that I should keep this notion of focal point/common culture among the participants since the notions of culture/place/activity/focal point are quite embedded]

Via David D. Haddock and Daniel D. Polsby (interesting paper abour riots' understandings : Schelling (1960: 54-58) again offers a framework for analysis by offering powerful evidence for the existence of focal points in social life. People who may never have met are nonetheless capable of coordinating their behavior under some circumstances. In one experiment, two people were instructed to think of a number between one and ten and told that both would be paid a reward if each arrived at the same answer. Subjects' ability to psyche one another out far exceeded chance. Perhaps even more surprising, certain open-ended questions can elicit a high amount of agreement. For example, in one experiment Schelling asked his subjects what they would do if they were simply told to go and meet someone in New York City on a certain day. Out of all the possibilities for when and where to meet, a majority, trying to intuit where and when other people would expect them to be, would have converged at the information booth in Grand Central Station at high noon!

Nothing paranormal is reflected in these experiments. Although it goes beyond what is definitely known to say what makes for a focal point, some features do seem to emerge pretty clearly from Schelling's experiments. For one thing, uniqueness seems to be important. When asked to pick a point on a map to await another person with the same map but with whom no meeting place has been arranged, many people will select a house on a map with one house and many crossroads, but will select a crossroads on a map with one intersection but many houses. And, of course, uniqueness makes sense when selecting focal points. Even if both parties select a house in the latter instance, the chance that they will select the same house is small. If one of many houses is distinct, however, it may be selected by some participants--a single mansion may be selected as a focal point even on a map with many houses. Another element that seems to figure in establishing a focal point is what could be called contextual prominence--for example, the number ``one'' in a series of numbers, or the center of a circular area or a mountain rising from a plane.