Social animals should limit individuality to conform with the behaviour of the group,a University of Bristol study suggests.
Scientists at Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences observed that group safety was improved when animals paid attention to the behaviours of each other.
Their findings, published today in PLoS Computational Biology, reveal that simple social behavioural rules can drive conformity behaviour in groups, eroding consistent behavioural differences shown by individual animals.
Lead author Dr Sean Rands said: “Personality suppression may be a common strategy in group-living animals, and in particular, we should tend to see the behaviours of the most adventurous or shy individuals shifting towards what the majority of the group are doing.”
The team modelled the behaviour of a small group of animals with differing tendencies while performing risky behaviours when travelling away from a safe home site towards a foraging site. They then compared this to their behaviour while completing the same activity in a group.
The group-aware individuals spent longer in the safe space and moved more quickly to the foraging spot, making the mission less dangerous.
Co-author Professor Christos Ioannou, explained: “Groups are usually made up of individuals who are different to each other in the way that they normally behave — these consistent individual differences are what determines the personality of the individual.
“Experimental evidence for this comes from animals like the stickleback fish that we study in our lab. We can measure the personality of individual fish when they are given a food-finding task on their own, and compare it to what happens when they are put in a group of mixed personalities and given the same task.
“When faced with a social task, we find that the fish tend to suppress their own behaviour, and instead conform with what other fish in the group are doing.”
Dr Rands concluded: “We find that if individuals pay attention to other group members, this has an overall impact on the efficiency of the group, and demonstrates that simple social behaviours can result in the suppression of individual personalities.
“This suggests that compromise may lie at the heart of many social behaviours across the animal kingdom.”