Both information and social cohesion determine collective decisions in animal groups

Noam Miller, Simon Garnier, Andrew T. Hartnett, Iain D. Couzin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

122 Scopus citations


During consensus decision making, individuals in groups balance personal information (based on their own past experiences) with social information (based on the behavior of other individuals), allowing the group to reach a single collective choice. Previous studies of consensus decision making processes have focused on the informational aspects of behavioral choice, assuming that individuals make choices based solely on their likelihood of being beneficial (e.g., rewarded). However, decisions by both humans and nonhuman animals systematically violate such expectations. Furthermore, the typical experimental paradigm of assessing binary decisions, those between two mutually exclusive options, confounds two aspects commontomost group decisions: minimizing uncertainty (through the use of personal and social information) and maintaining group cohesion (for example, to reduce predation risk). Here we experimentally disassociate cohesion-based decisions from information-based decisions using a three-choice paradigm and demonstrate that both factors are crucial to understanding the collective decision making of schooling fish. In addition, we demonstrate how multiple informational dimensions (here color and stripe orientation) are integrated within groups to achieve consensus, even though no individual is explicitly aware of, or has a unique preference for, the consensus option. Balancing of personal information and social cues by individuals in key frontal positions in the group is shown to be essential for such group-level capabilities. Our results demonstrate the importance of integrating informational with other social considerations when explaining the collective capabilities of group-living animals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5263-5268
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number13
StatePublished - Mar 26 2013
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Bayesian
  • Behaviour
  • Collective intelligence
  • Golden shiner


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