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Primate behavior explained by computer 'agents'
Date:9/11/2007

The complex behaviour of primates can be understood using artificially-intelligent computer agents that mimic their actions, shows new research published in a special edition of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B and presented at the BA Festival of Science in York.

Scientists using agents programmed with simple instructions to work out why some primate groups are despotic whilst others are egalitarian - overturning previous theories developed by primatologists.

They have also found support for an existing theory of how dominant macaques make it to the safer positions at the middle of their troop without seeming to be pre-occupied with getting there.

Using agents programmed with two rules stay in a group for safety and pester subordinates until they move away scientists found that their more dominant agents would make their way to the centre of the group.

This desire to stay in a group and pick on subordinates could be an evolutionary mechanism that helps protect the more dominant and successful individuals in a group, they suggest.

This kind of agent-based modelling is really a new way of doing science, said Dr Joanna Bryson from the University of Bath who led the study and is one of the editors of the Philosophical Transactions special edition.

Previously scientists have been limited to trying to understand animal behaviour by making observations and then developing theories that fit.

Now we can test these theories using agents to give us a better understanding of complex behaviours.

This work shows that agent models are an ordinary part of scientific theory building. We confirmed and extended previous work on spatial location of dominant animals, while showing where some theories got it wrong in this case a theory put forward for why macaques form either despotic or egalitarian troops.

Whilst there is no hierarchical structure in egalitarian groups there t
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Contact: Andrew McLaughlin
a.mclaughlin@bath.ac.uk
44-079-663-22357
University of Bath
Source:Eurekalert

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