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Flock Mentality


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Sheep in human clothing - scientists reveal our flock mentality

 

Have you ever arrived somewhere and wondered how you got there? Scientists at the University of Leeds believe they may have found the answer, with research that shows that humans flock like sheep and birds, subconsciously following a minority of individuals.

 

Results from a study at the University of Leeds show that it takes a minority of just five per cent to influence a crowd's direction – and that the other 95 per cent follow without realising it.

 

The findings could have major implications for directing the flow of large crowds, in particular in disaster scenarios, where verbal communication may be difficult. "There are many situations where this information could be used to good effect," says Professor Jens Krause of the University's Faculty of Biological Sciences. "At one extreme, it could be used to inform emergency planning strategies and at the other, it could be useful in organising pedestrian flow in busy areas."

 

Professor Jens KrauseProfessor Krause, with PhD student John Dyer, conducted a series of experiments where groups of people were asked to walk randomly around a large hall. Within the group, a select few received more detailed information about where to walk. Participants were not allowed to communicate with one another but had to stay within arms length of another person.

 

The findings show that in all cases, the 'informed individuals' were followed by others in the crowd, forming a self-organising, snake-like structure. "We've all been in situations where we get swept along by the crowd," says Professor Krause. "But what's interesting about this research is that our participants ended up making a consensus decision despite the fact that they weren't allowed to talk or gesture to one another. In most cases the participants didn't realise they were being led by others."

 

Other experiments in the study used groups of different sizes, with different ratios of 'informed individuals'. The research findings show that as the number of people in a crowd increases, the number of informed individuals decreases. In large crowds of 200 or more, five per cent of the group is enough to influence the direction in which it travels. The research also looked at different scenarios for the location of the 'informed individuals' to determine whether where they were located had a bearing on the time it took for the crowd to follow.

 

"We initially started looking at consensus decision making in humans because we were interested in animal migration, particularly birds, where it can be difficult to identify the leaders of a flock," says Professor Krause. "But it just goes to show that there are strong parallels between animal grouping behaviour and human crowds."

 

This research was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and was a collaborative study involving the Universities of Oxford and Wales Bangor. The paper relating to this research, entitled Consensus decision making in human crowds is published in the current issue of Animal Behaviour Journal.

 

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I think these guys may be assuming that a flock has a leader. Craig Reynolds created a simulation some years ago called Boids in which each member of the flock employed just 3 rules that determined it’s flight pattern. And the simulated birds flocked without the need of leaders.

 

http://www.red3d.com/cwr/boids/

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I really hate to downplay the importance of science in any context, but I just can't understand how researchers continue to be "surprised" by common sense findings. I've understood the herd mentality of human psychology for most of my life through simple observation.

 

Which isn't to say I think this or any other study is necessarily a waste of time. I also understand the scientific method doesn't really allow researchers to accept common sense wisdom out-of-hand. It's just one of the amusing idiosyncrasies of science.

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I think these guys may be assuming that a flock has a leader. Craig Reynolds created a simulation some years ago called Boids in which each member of the flock employed just 3 rules that determined it’s flight pattern. And the simulated birds flocked without the need of leaders.

 

http://www.red3d.com/cwr/boids/

First of all, we are not birds. The behavior of birds in flock doesn't prove human behavior in flock. Secondly, the study was to show how a minority with knowledge makes the majority without knowledge follow, not a majority with individual knowledge leads themselves. So I don't think the two studies contradict each other, but rather cover different areas of study. Besides, simulations are simulations based on presumptions. You start with a set of rules, and you build those rules into the simulation, that doesn't prove that those rules are the only rules applicable to reality. Human behavior and flock mentality is most likely many rules. The study conducted was done on live people, not computer simulations of expected behaviors. I can write simulations to prove every "simulator being" follows the red-laser-light on the wall, but it doesn't prove humans are cats.

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Not to mention the fact one is studying genuine human behavior, while the other is simulating bird behavior with electronic models. I don't mean to discredit the quality of our ability to model behavior in such a way, but there's an undeniable difference between the two.

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Yes, I was adding the same thought into my post while you responded. :)

 

And of course, I do not intend to discredit the use of models or simulations. They have their validity in the right context, but they only prove what they intend to prove.

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Heh, I see that now.

 

As a humorous aside, my cat's never followed a laser pointer. Just one more example of natural behavior giving the finger to our understanding thereof.

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I really hate to downplay the importance of science in any context, but I just can't understand how researchers continue to be "surprised" by common sense findings. I've understood the herd mentality of human psychology for most of my life through simple observation.

 

Which isn't to say I think this or any other study is necessarily a waste of time. I also understand the scientific method doesn't really allow researchers to accept common sense wisdom out-of-hand. It's just one of the amusing idiosyncrasies of science.

 

Well, there's that. There's also getting at the particulars of things, i.e. hidden mechanisms at work, ruling certain things out, etc.

 

Also, every so often, common sense gets turned on its ass. It used to be common sense that non-white races were inferior, for example, but thanks to science, people who say such things are rightly viewed as reactionary sister-fucking cretins.

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:scratch: Hmm, now it all makes sense. I've noticed from working in the bookstore, that there'll be no one at the counter, and I'll try to work on something while I don't have a customer, and lo and behold it seems as I can only be gone a few minutes and out of nowhere there's a line of people at the register. One or two must be walking up and the rest of the customers seem to flock behind the first two.

 

Has anyone else who works in retail noticed this?

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Is there a practical way to apply the findings of the flocking study to the quest to steer humanity away from the delusion and ignorance of religion (and religious tribalism), toward science / reality / compassionate rationalism?

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I doubt it, PF. Part of what draws people to cults in the first place is the leaders thereof tend to be strong alpha personalities.

 

Well, there's that. There's also getting at the particulars of things, i.e. hidden mechanisms at work, ruling certain things out, etc.

Good point. I forget sometimes the aim of science isn't necessarily to say "hey, this happens," but more often to figure out why it does and what drives it. It is, after all, the observation of an event or behavior that usually motivates the scientist to study the phenomenon in the first place.

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