Collective Sensing and Decision-Making in Animal Groups: From Fish Schools to Primate Societies

Tuesday, December 4, 2018 - 4:00pm to 5:00pm
Greene Science Center, 9th Floor, 3227 Broadway, New York
Understanding how social influence shapes biological processes is a central challenge in contemporary science, essential for achieving progress in a variety of fields ranging from the organization and evolution of coordinated collective action among neurons, or animals, to the dynamics of information exchange in human societies. Using an integrated experimental and theoretical approach I will address how, and why, animals exhibit highly-coordinated collective behavior, and what this can teach us about information processing more generally. I will demonstrate new imaging and immersive virtual reality technology that allows us to reconstruct (automatically) the dynamic, time-varying sensory networks by which social influence propagates in groups. This allows us to identify, for any instant in time, the most socially-influential individuals, and to predict the magnitude of complex behavioral cascades within groups before they actually occur. By investigating the coupling between spatial and information dynamics in groups we reveal that emergent problem solving is the predominant mechanism by which mobile groups sense, and respond to complex environmental gradients. I will also reveal the critical role uninformed, or unbiased, individuals play in effecting fast and democratic consensus decision-making in collectives, and will validate these predictions with experiments involving schooling fish and wild baboons. These results are shown to transcend specific systems, and may give new insights into how individual brains come to decisions, a hypothesis I will propose, and explore (preliminarily), with ongoing experiments of individual decision-making in immersive virtual environments.
Iain D. Couzin, PhD
Home Institution: 
Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, University of Konstanz
Event Types: 
Neurobiology Seminars