intellectual vanities… about close to everything

Sheep In Human Clothing: Crowds And Power

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Crowds and Power by Elias Canetti (1960), brought together material from many disciples, and avoided such names as Marx or Freud, who is mentioned once in a note. It started from the assumption that crowd instinct is as fundamental as the passion to survive. “The lowest form of survival is killing.” The first half analyses the dynamics of different types of crowds and of ‘packs’. The second part focuses on the question how and why crowds obey rulers. “Our most pressing need, as Canetti very movingly and convincingly argues at the end, is to control the ‘survivor mania’ of our rulers, and the key to this is ‘the humanisation of command’. But how is command to be humanised? Canetti has not given us a psychology with which to picture the humanisation of command.” However, scientists at the University of Leeds carried out research that shows that humans flock like sheep and birds, subconsciously following a minority of individuals.

Results from a study at the University of Leeds show that it takes a minority of just five per cent to influence a crowd’s direction – and that the other 95 per cent follow without realising it.

The findings could have major implications for directing the flow of large crowds, in particular in disaster scenarios, where verbal communication may be difficult. “There are many situations where this information could be used to good effect,” says Professor Jens Krause of the University’s Faculty of Biological Sciences. “At one extreme, it could be used to inform emergency planning strategies and at the other, it could be useful in organising pedestrian flow in busy areas.”

Professor Krause, with PhD student John Dyer, conducted a series of experiments where groups of people were asked to walk randomly around a large hall. Within the group, a select few received more detailed information about where to walk. Participants were not allowed to communicate with one another but had to stay within arms length of another person.

The findings show that in all cases, the ‘informed individuals’ were followed by others in the crowd, forming a self-organising, snake-like structure. “We’ve all been in situations where we get swept along by the crowd,” says Professor Krause. “But what’s interesting about this research is that our participants ended up making a consensus decision despite the fact that they weren’t allowed to talk or gesture to one another. In most cases the participants didn’t realise they were being led by others.”

Other experiments in the study used groups of different sizes, with different ratios of ‘informed individuals’. The research findings show that as the number of people in a crowd increases, the number of informed individuals decreases. In large crowds of 200 or more, five per cent of the group is enough to influence the direction in which it travels. The research also looked at different scenarios for the location of the ‘informed individuals’ to determine whether where they were located had a bearing on the time it took for the crowd to follow.

“We initially started looking at consensus decision making in humans because we were interested in animal migration, particularly birds, where it can be difficult to identify the leaders of a flock,” says Professor Krause. “But it just goes to show that there are strong parallels between animal grouping behaviour and human crowds.”
Animal Behaviour Volume 75, Issue 2, February 2008, Pages 461-470
doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2007.05.010 Copyright © 2007 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Consensus decision making in human crowds

John R.G. Dyer*, Corresponding Author Contact Information, E-mail The Corresponding Author, Christos C. Ioannou*, Lesley J. Morrell*, Darren P. Croft*, †, 1, Iain D. Couzin‡, §, 2, Dean A. Waters* and Jens Krause*
†School of Biological Sciences, University of Wales Bangor, U.K.
‡Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, U.K.
*Institute of Integrative and Comparative Biology, University of Leeds, U.K.
§Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, U.S.A.
Received 16 November 2006; revised 23 February 2007; accepted 30 May 2007. MS. number: 9179. Available online 18 October 2007.

In groups of animals only a small proportion of individuals may possess particular information, such as a migration route or the direction to a resource. Individuals may differ in preferred direction resulting in conflicts of interest and, therefore, consensus decisions may have to be made to prevent the group from splitting. Recent theoretical work has shown how leadership and consensus decision making can occur without active signalling or individual recognition. Here we test these predictions experimentally using humans. We found that a small informed minority could guide a group of naïve individuals to a target without verbal communication or obvious signalling. Both the time to target and deviation from target were decreased by the presence of informed individuals. When conflicting directional information was given to different group members, the time taken to reach the target was not significantly increased; suggesting that consensus decision making in conflict situations is possible, and highly efficient. Where there was imbalance in the number of informed individuals with conflicting information, the majority dictated group direction. Our results also suggest that the spatial starting position of informed individuals influences group motion, which has implications in terms of crowd control and planning for evacuations.

Corresponding Author Contact InformationCorrespondence and present address: J. Dyer, Institute of Integrative and Comparative Biology, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, U.K.
1 D. P. Croft is at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Wales Bangor, Deiniol Road, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2UW, U.K.
2 I. D. Couzin is at the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544-1003, U.S.A.


Written by huehueteotl

February 16, 2008 at 2:19 pm

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