Collective information processing and pattern formation in swarms, flocks, and crowds

Mehdi Moussaid, Simon Garnier, Guy Theraulaz, Dirk Helbing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

160 Scopus citations


The spontaneous organization of collective activities in animal groups and societies has attracted a considerable amount of attention over the last decade. This kind of coordination often permits group-living species to achieve collective tasks that are far beyond single individuals' capabilities. In particular, a key benefit lies in the integration of partial knowledge of the environment at the collective level. In this contribution, we discuss various self-organization phenomena in animal swarms and human crowds from the point of view of information exchange among individuals. In particular, we provide a general description of collective dynamics across species and introduce a classification of these dynamics not only with respect to the way information is transferred among individuals but also with regard to the knowledge processing at the collective level. Finally, we highlight the fact that the individual's ability to learn from past experiences can have a feedback effect on the collective dynamics, as experienced with the development of behavioral conventions in pedestrian crowds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)469-497
Number of pages29
JournalTopics in Cognitive Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Linguistics and Language


  • Collective behaviors
  • Distributed cognition
  • Information transfer
  • Living beings
  • Self-organization
  • Social interactions


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