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Herd mentality: Are we programmed to make bad decisions?
A natural desire to be part of the 'in crowd' could damage our ability to make the right decisions, a new study has shown.
December 16th, 2014 | PHYS.org

Research led by the University of Exeter has shown that individuals have evolved to be overly influenced by their neighbours, rather than rely on their own instinct. As a result, groups become less responsive to changes in their natural environment.

The collaborative international study, which includes academics from Princeton University and both the Sorbonne Universites and Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation (INRIA) in France, is published in the Royal Society journal Interface.

Lead author of the report, Dr Colin Torney, from the University of Exeter's Mathematics department explained: "Social influence is a powerful force in nature and society.

"Copying what other individuals do can be useful in many situations, such as what kind of phone to buy, or for animals, which way to move or whether a situation is dangerous.

"However, the challenge is in evaluating personal beliefs when they contradict what others are doing. We showed that evolution will lead individuals to over use social information, and copy others too much than they should.

"The result is that groups evolve to be unresponsive to changes in their environment and spend too much time copying one another, and not making their own decisions."

The team used mathematical models to look at how the use of social information has evolved within animal groups.

By using a simple model of decision-making in a dynamic environment, the team were able to show that individuals overly rely on social information and evolve to be too readily influenced by their neighbours. The team suggest this is due to a "classic evolutionary conflict between individual and collective interest".

Dr Torney said: "Our results suggest we shouldn't expect social groups in nature to respond effectively to changing environments. Individuals that spend too much time copying their neighbours is likely to be the norm."

The study, Social information use and the evolution of unresponsiveness in collective systems, is published in the journal Interface on December 17 2014.

More information: Social information use and the evolution of unresponsiveness in collective systems, Journal of the Royal Society Interface, rsif.royalsocietypublishing.or… .1098/rsif.2014.0893
Provided by University of Exeter


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 17th, 2015 01:12 am (UTC)
Interesting... does it hold true for individualistic and collective cultures? It seems like the collective cultures have been quite successful. Is that because they collectively make decisions or because they copy behaviors within their collectives?
Jan. 17th, 2015 02:06 am (UTC)
I think the distinction is that the "in crowd" is the "popular" kids for whom bullying is a primary way of maintaining dominance. The opposite of "in" is generally the "nerds" who don't mind being dorks because they are really into something of substance.

I don't really know what you mean by "collective cultures" though. You'd think democracy would be that way but hey, it's more like fascism, at least here. I'm confused. Tell me more?
Jan. 24th, 2015 02:44 pm (UTC)
A collectivist culture is one where decisions are made to the benefit of groups - i.e. families, communities, etc (think tribal) - the individual isn't considered. More of a "one for all" attitude, whereas individualistic cultures such as American and Western European focus more in the rights of individuals, people make decisions based on how it will affect them without so much regard for the group as a whole.

That's a very simplistic explanation - there is a lot of information out there as the difference is studied quite extensively in psychology and sociology. (Google has a lot of links if you search for collectivist vs. individualist)

Great topic for discussion when we see each other!
Jan. 26th, 2015 05:01 pm (UTC)
Yes! There is a balance to be struck between collectivism and individualism..... Collectivism as tribalism only works in groups up to a certain size (I'm sure sociologists have pinpointed optimal group sizes for certain behaviors). Part of the failure of nationalism I think is in the effort to create a tribal atmosphere in a group that is far too large and diverse to operate as a tribe...
Jan. 25th, 2015 12:42 am (UTC)
The reason I am glad I made new friends. Who the fuck even was I? I don't maybe feel as close to the people I spend my time with now, but I don't think there is much groupthink going on there either. A lot of stuff never really made sense as far as who was "in" and who was "out". When someone gets "out" with the people I hang out with now, there is a reason and people are pretty open about what's up. It's refreshing.
Jan. 26th, 2015 05:02 pm (UTC)
Were you part of an "in group" for a while? Sounds like it. I am glad too that you escaped from that bleak reality. Welcome to the world of dorks and nerds. =-]
Jan. 27th, 2015 02:01 am (UTC)
Performers are fairly notorious for being very caught up in that sort of thing. Present company included. This is public, so I'm not going to rabbit on about it. More like welcome BACK. I was uncool before uncool was cool! (An actual magnet on my fridge.)
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )



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