Evidently the size of a group has a greater attraction than the determination of a smaller party. The urge to go along with a relatively even-tempered majority frequently prevails over the attraction of an extremely determined minority. For this to happen, however, there must be sufficient undecided individuals to join in with the majority.
The scientists used their computer models to simulate a decision-making situation offering two choices, with the facility to vary the number of individuals preferring one option or the other. They also varied the strength of feeling with which individuals preferred either option. The models were based on just a few generalised assumptions. "Our results are therefore applicable to all systems in which individuals would rather follow one another than enter into conflict and make decisions in the interests of their neighbours. This is true of various social organisms such as, for example, shoals of fish, flocks of birds or herds of mammals. And of course our findings are also transferable to human societies," Ian Couzin from Princeton University explains.
As a reality check for the model, the researchers also studied the behaviour of shoaling fish. By introducing food, they trained two groups of golden shiners, Notemigonus crysoleucas, to swim towards either a yellow or a blue disc. Under the conditions of the experiment, the fish began with a predilection for the colour yellow, so that those trained to swim to the yellow disc acquired a much stronger preference than those trained to swim to the blue disc.
An analysis of their behaviour confirmed the results of the computer model: five fish trained to prefer yellow creatures with a stronger predilection for this colour prevailed over six fish trained to prefer
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