Uninformed individuals promote democratic consensus in animal groups

Iain D. Couzin, Christos C. Ioannou, G├╝ven Demirel, Thilo Gross, Colin J. Torney, Andrew Hartnett, Larissa Conradt, Simon A. Levin, and Naomi E. Leonard
Science, 334(6062), 1578-1580

Conflicting interests among group members are common when making collective decisions, yet failure to achieve consensus can be costly. Under these circumstances individuals may be susceptible to manipulation by a strongly opinionated, or extremist, minority. Previously it has been argued, for humans and animals, that social groups containing individuals who are uninformed, or exhibit weak preferences, are particularly vulnerable to such manipulative agents. Here we demonstrate, using theory and experiment, that for a wide range of conditions a strongly opinionated minority can dictate group choice, but that the presence of uninformed individuals spontaneously inhibits this process, returning control to the numerical majority. Our results emphasize the role of uninformed individuals in achieving democratic consensus amidst internal group conflict and informational constraints.

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