Subscribe to Feed            Add to your Favourites

“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” – Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Fresh Reads from the Science 'o sphere!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Mob Behaviour Of Social Groups

What a remarkable confluence of events today!

1. This morning I received an email from an old friend - unfortunately it was a chain mail with some pretty NASA photograph in it.

I prefer not to propagate chain mails, so I deleted it while asking myself: "Why do people fall for chain mails so easily?"

2. Next, I came across this YouTube video about chain letters on MySpace and other social networking sites:

Nykytyne2 sees a connection between Pascal's Wager and the mob behaviour of people who keep reposting chain letters.

He thinks that social networking and multiplayer game sites can potentially be a great tool for social psychologists to study mob behaviour.

3. And then, sociologist Jesse Fagan of Orbital Teapot posts a summary about this research study:

Effective leadership and decision-making in animal groups on the move (Couzin et al. 2005, Nature)

This paper has revealed a very interesting result. Jesse explains:

The powerful insight, I thought, was that groups that behave like swarms or flocks can find some resource if only a small proportion of the the individuals have the knowledge. Furthermore, the ratio between those who know and those who follow scales logarithmically with respect to the size of the total group. That means the larger the group, the group of knowledgeable individuals does not have to rise linearly.

When I say agents who behave like a swarm I mean they obey a small set of simple rules.

So here's a plausible explanation for why there are so many "sheeple" in the world today mindlessly following a tiny clique of powerful overlords.

Maybe it doesn't hurt society to have many stupid people who are only good at following orders - there could be a structural reason behind this.

Ain't that neat?

The question, the hypothesis-generation and the results all popped up within the space of a few hours.

Sometimes I wonder if I am trying to find systems science, or if systems science is trying to find me...

1 Comment:

angry doc said...

I remember watching a documentary on locusts. The scientists were wondering how they manage to swarm without constantly colliding into each other.