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Issued by Faculty of Biological
Sciences - University of Leeds
SHEEP IN HUMAN CLOTHING –
SCIENTISTS REVEAL OUR FLOCK MENTALITY
Have you ever arrived somewhere and wondered how you got
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
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
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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NOTES TO EDITORS
1. Jens Krause is Professor of Behavioural Ecology, in the
Institute of Integrative and Comparative Biology. His research interests focus
on the mechanisms and functions of group-living in animals.