How people behave often depends on what others do. If other car drivers or subway users leave for work at 8 a.m., it may be to my advantage to leave at 6 a.m., even if that is really too early from my point of view. In equilibrium, flows stabilize so that each person makes the best trade-off between their ideal schedule and the congestion they will suffer on their commute. In making such choices, agents seek to differentiate their behavior from that of others. On other occasions, agents have a problem with coordination. They would like to choose to behave the same way as others. For example, if most of my fellow citizens did not pay their parking tickets, there would be (unfortunately) strong pressure for an amnesty for such offenders, which would reduce my incentive to pay my parking tickets too. As in the pedestrian-driver game, there may be multiple equilibria, so that two otherwise identical societies may adopt different behavioral patterns.

Original test

I want to understand bold sentence meaning. Could you explain more clearly?

  • 1
    What do you think it might mean? What parts or words are you unsure about?
    – randomhead
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 12:10
  • The basic idea is that every person's behaviour affects every other person's behaviour, and so the effects described in the first part of the paragraph could easily produce many different equilibrium situations.
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 13:11
  • A few points that might be confusing: 1) It mentions a "game" that isn't mentioned elsewhere in the paragraph, so maybe that references material that came even earlier. 2) The word equilibria is the plural of equilibrium; the third sentence of the paragraph helps show how the author is using this word. Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 13:46

1 Answer 1


They are talking about game theory and the idea of equilibriums, in other words optimal solutions to the game. Note that game in this context is a very broadly defined term, we aren't just talking about chess or checkers. A very well known example is the Prisoner Dilemma. When talking about solutions to games, most famously you may have heard of Nash equilibrium:

In game theory, the Nash equilibrium, named after the mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr., is the most common way to define the solution of a non-cooperative game involving two or more players.


The conclusion of the author is that this "game" has multiple local optima, so that even if you have different groups (of roughly equal composition, or in the authors words, identical) playing the same game, they each may have a different but equally optimal solutions.


In applied mathematics and computer science, a local optimum of an optimization problem is a solution that is optimal (either maximal or minimal) within a neighboring set of candidate solutions. This is in contrast to a global optimum, which is the optimal solution among all possible solutions, not just those in a particular neighborhood of values.

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