Shared decision-making drives collective movement in wild baboons

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Science  19 Jun 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6241, pp. 1358-1361
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa5099

Baboons follow the pack, not the leader

How do groups of animals, including humans, make decisions that affect the entire group? Evidence collected from schooling animals suggests that the process is somewhat democratic, with nearest neighbors and the majority shaping overall collective behavior. In animals with hierarchical social structures such as primates or wolves, however, such democracy may be complicated by dominance. Strandburg-Peshkin et al. monitored all the individuals within a baboon troop continuously over the course of their daily activities. Even within this highly socially structured species, movement decisions emerged via a shared process. Thus, democracy may be an inherent trait of collective behavior.

Science, this issue p. 1358


Conflicts of interest about where to go and what to do are a primary challenge of group living. However, it remains unclear how consensus is achieved in stable groups with stratified social relationships. Tracking wild baboons with a high-resolution global positioning system and analyzing their movements relative to one another reveals that a process of shared decision-making governs baboon movement. Rather than preferentially following dominant individuals, baboons are more likely to follow when multiple initiators agree. When conflicts arise over the direction of movement, baboons choose one direction over the other when the angle between them is large, but they compromise if it is not. These results are consistent with models of collective motion, suggesting that democratic collective action emerging from simple rules is widespread, even in complex, socially stratified societies.

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