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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  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.

 

Further information:

 

Clare Elsley, campuspr Ltd. Tel 0113 258 9880, Mob 07767 685168, Email  clare@campuspr.co.uk Guy Dixon, Press Office, University of Leeds. Tel 0113  3438229, Email g.dixon@leeds.ac.uk

 

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.

 


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