Michael Belz, Lennart W Pyritz, and Margarete Boos (2013)

Spontaneous flocking in human groups

Behavioural Processes, 92:6-14.

Flocking behaviour, as a type of self-organised collective behaviour, is described as the spatial formation of groups without global control and explicit inter-individual recruitment signals. It can be observed in many animals, such as bird flocks, shoals or herds of ungulates. Spatial attraction between humans as the central component of flocking behaviour has been simulated in a number of seminal models but it has not been detected experimentally in human groups so far. The two other sub-processes of this self-organised collective movement – collision avoidance and alignment – are excluded or held constant respectively in this study. We created a computer-based, multi-agent game where human players, represented as black dots, moved on a virtual playground. The participants were deprived of social cues about each other and could neither communicate verbally nor nonverbally. They played two games: (1) Single Game, where other players were invisible, and (2) Joint Game, where each player could see playersʼ positions in a local radius around himself/herself. We found that individuals approached their neighbours spontaneously if their positions were visible, leading to less spatial dispersion of the whole group compared to moving alone. We conclude that human groups show the basic component of flocking behaviour without being explicitly instructed or rewarded to do so. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

Sponsor: University of Goettingen, Courant Research Centre “Evolution of Social Behaviour”, Germany. Recipients: No recipient indicated

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