Imitation combined with a characteristic stimulus duration results in robust collective decision-making

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Abstract

For group-living animals, reaching consensus to stay cohesive is crucial for their fitness, particularly when collective motion starts and stops. Understanding the decision-making at individual and collective levels upon sudden disturbances is central in the study of collectiveanimal behavior, and concerns the broader question of how information is distributed and evaluated in groups. Despite the relevance of the problem, well-controlled experimentalstudies that quantify the collective response of groups facing disruptive events are lacking. Here we study the behavior of small-sized groups of uninformed individuals subject to thedeparture and stop of a trained conspecific. We find that the groups reach an effective consensus: either all uninformed individuals follow the trained one (and collective motionoccurs) or none does. Combining experiments and a simple mathematical model we show that the observed phenomena results from the interplay between simple mimetic rules andthe characteristic duration of the stimulus, here, the time during which the trained individual is moving away. The proposed mechanism strongly depends on group size, as observed inthe experiments, and even if group splitting can occur, the most likely outcome is always a coherent collective group response (consensus). The prevalence of a consensus isexpected even if the groups of naives face conflicting information, e.g. if groups contain two subgroups of trained individuals, one trained to stay and one trained to leave. Our resultsindicate that collective decision-making and consensus in (small) animal groups are likely to be self-organized phenomena that do not involve concertation or even communicationamong the group members.

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Toulet, S., Gautrais, J., Bon, R., & Peruani, F. (2015). Imitation combined with a characteristic stimulus duration results in robust collective decision-making. PLoS ONE, 10(10). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0140188

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