BioND — Dynamics of Biological Networks

Uninformed individuals promote democratic consensus in animal groups

Iain D. Couzin, Christos C. Ioannou, Güven Demirel, Thilo Gross, Colin J. Torney, Andrew Hartnett, Larissa Conradt, Simon A Levin, and Naomi E. Leonard
Science 334(6206), 1578-1580 , 2011.

Abstract

Figure

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. It has previously 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 use theory and experiment to demonstrate that, for a wide range of conditions, a strongly opinionated minority can dictate group choice, but 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 amid internal group conflict and informational constraints.

Media Coverage

Chris Löwer, P.M., 2013-02-01
Nur scheinbar eine einförmige Masse: Fische im Schwarm sind nicht alle gleich – es gibt „meinungsbildende“ und Mitläufer.
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Manuela Lenzen, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 2012-03-14
Ignoranten sind eine Gefahr für die Demokratie. Wie leicht könnten sie in ihrer Ahnungslosigkeit dem erstbesten Demagogen aufsitzen! Stimmt nicht, sagen Ian D. Couzin und Mitautoren: Uninformierte Individuen befördern den demokratischen Konsens - jedenfalls bei Notemigonus crysoleucas, einem schwarmbildenden Süßwasserfisch.
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CBC Radio, 2011-12-19
We journalists like to think that what we do is vital for democracy. That keeping the people informed of a complex world empowers each individual, and helps people make the best choices for the whole of society. According to a new study published in the journal Science, however, we've got it all backwards. The conclusion of the study is that the health of a democracy is dependent on keeping people UN-informed. Or some of them, anyway.
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Rob Waugh, Daily Mail Online, 2011-12-19
A well-informed, interested public is often hailed as the 'ideal' of democracy. But a new Princeton study suggests that the opposite could be the case - and that people who have no interest at all could be vital to the working of a democratic society.
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Scinexx, 2011-12-19
Ob in einem Fischschwarm oder in einer menschlichen Gesellschaft: Soziale Lebewesen müssen gemeinsam Entscheidungen treffen. Nicht immer setzt sich dabei die Mehrheit durch. In manchen Fällen gelingt es einer zielstrebigen kleinen Gruppe, die ganze Gemeinschaft in ihrem Sinne zu beeinflussen. Ein Forscherteam hat jetzt anhand von Computermodellen und Verhaltensstudien an Fischen herausgefunden, dass uninformierte Individuen die Entscheidung einer Mehrheit unterstützen und verhindern können, dass sich eine besonders entschlossene Minderheit durchsetzt.
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PTI, Firstpost, 2011-12-19
Ignorance is bliss, it’s often said, but it seems it can also promote democracy, a new study based on animal behaviour says.
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Jeffrey Kluger , Time, 2011-12-19
The Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Streeters owe a lot to a little fish called the golden shiner.
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Jürgen Schönstein, Science Blogs, 2011-12-19
Auf diesen knappen Nenner lassen sich die Ergenisse des Papers Uninformed Individuals Promote Democratic Consensus in Animal Groups bringen, das in der aktuellen Ausgabe von Science erschienen ist.
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Christopher Shea, Wall Street Journal, 2011-12-19
Computer models and experiments with shiners, a kind of fish, demonstrate that, within groups, members with weak preferences can prevent minorities with strongly held views from getting their way.
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Christine Lepisto, Treehugger, 2011-12-18
First of all, kudos to Iain Couzin and his team at Princeton for an elegant bit of research using shiner fish to validate computer models exploring the effect of the uninformed population on consensus when opposing minority interests threaten to doom decision making.
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Brunei Times, 2011-12-17
It might sound fishy, but researchers at Princeton University say minnows make perfect lab rats when it comes to exploring the surprising power of the uninformed in group decision-making.
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Eberhard Lauth, The European, 2011-12-17
Uninformierte und Ungebildete können sich jederzeit von Modernisierungsverlierern zum entscheidenden Faktor für Umbrüche entwickeln. Das ist gerade jetzt wichtig. Und die Fische machen es vor.
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St. Albert Gazette, 2011-12-17
A new study suggests that uninformed voters may help, not hinder, democratic decisions.
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Gill Eapen , Scientific Sense, 2011-12-16
A recent study shows that some percentage of uninformed (ignorant) individuals promote democratic consensus in animal groups. This is a very interesting finding as the same appears to be true in complex human societies as well. Through theory and experiments, the article demonstrates that the presence of uninformed individuals inhibit the process of domination by a strongly opinionated minority. If the strongly opinionated minority is pushing toward an optimal outcome for the system, ignorant participants will slow them down.
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Kate Shaw, Wired, 2011-12-16
How do groups of animals make collective decisions? Last week, we learned that bees reach consensus by headbutting those with opposing views. But in many other species, the decision-making process is a bit more democratic. In cases where social animals are unrelated and have different self-interests (such as our own), contrasting opinions are common. But it can be just as common for individuals to either be uninformed about the options, or simply not care much about the decision.
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BBC.co.uk, 2011-12-16
Disinterested individuals are vital for achieving a democratic consensus, according to a study in the journal Science.
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Emily Badger, Miller-McCune, 2011-12-15
In a lesson taught by schools of fish, researchers determine that uninformed individuals are actually a benefit to democracy by sanding off extreme views.
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Susan Milius, ScienceNews, 2011-12-15
Decisions can be more democratic when individuals with no preset preference join a group
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Paul Basken, The Cronicle of higher education, 2011-12-15
As Congress proves itself increasingly dysfunctional and captive to extremists, lots of people may be asking themselves: What kind of fish-brained voters keep electing these guys?
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AFP, ABC Science, 2011-12-15
It might sound fishy, but US researchers say minnows make perfect lab rats when it comes to exploring the surprising power of the uninformed in group decision-making.
(more)

Science Daily, 2011-12-15
Contrary to the ideal of a completely engaged electorate, individuals who have the least interest in a specific outcome can actually be vital to achieving a democratic consensus.
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Eva Obermüller, ORF.at, 2011-12-15
Der mündige und informierte Bürger ist Grundlage jeder funktionierenden Demokratie, so die gängige Annahme. Eine Studie besagt hingegen: Unwissende, interesselose Individuen sind ebenso wichtig für den demokratischen Konsens.
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Joseph Castro, LiveScience, 2011-12-15
Ignorance can be bliss, but it seems it can also promote democracy.
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Joseph Castro, MSNBC.com, 2011-12-15
Minority can persuade majority, until the unknowing come along, study finds.
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AFP, Ottawa Citizen, 2011-12-15
It might sound fishy, but researchers at Princeton University say minnows make perfect lab rats when it comes to exploring the surprising power of the uninformed in group decision-making.
(more)

Improbable Research, 2011-12-15
A democracy without a substantial number of uninformed individuals, may not know what it’s doing, metaphorically speaking. So implies this new study
(more)

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