Crowds 'pick leaders to follow' - Telegraph
Like ants, humans are easily led - TelegraphCrowds 'pick leaders to follow'
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
Last Updated: 11:01pm GMT 14/02/2008
People in crowds behave just like sheep, scientists claim, by blindly following one or two people who seem to know where they are going.
Like ants, humans are easily led [a link to the story below - P]
Researchers at Leeds University believe their findings could have important applications, notably in the management of disasters.
The study found that people, like sheep, can be easily led
The team, led by Prof Jens Krause, conducted a series of experiments in which volunteers were told to walk randomly around a large hall without talking to each other. A select few were then given more detailed instructions.
The results published today show that it takes a minority of just 5 per cent of what they called "informed individuals" to influence the direction of a crowd of a minimum of 200 people. The remaining herd of 95 per cent follow without realising it.
"There are strong parallels with animal grouping behaviour," says Prof Krause, who reports the work with John Dyer in the Animal Behaviour Journal, with colleagues at the Universities of Oxford and Wales Bangor.
"We've all been in situations where we get swept along by the crowd 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."
The work follows another study by Dr Simon Reader of Utrecht University that showed that most of us are happy to play follow-my-leader, even if we are trailing after someone who does not really know where they are going.
"Even more striking, that study found that even when we are shown a faster route, we still prefer to stick with the old one and tell others to take the long road too.
That discovery could have lethal implications when it comes to evacuating a building or ship in an emergency, when people would likely stick to the familiar evacuation route, even if slower than an alternative.
Like ants, humans are easily led
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 12/12/2007
When it comes to being misled, humans are no more sophisticated than ants or fish.
Implications for evacuations and how to guide people safely in an emergency will arise from the discovery that most of us are happy to play follow-my-leader, even if we are trailing after someone who does not know where they are going and taking the most meandering route.
Even more striking, even when we are shown a faster route, we prefer to stick with the old one and tell others to take the long road too, a finding that could have lethal implications when it comes to evacuating a building or ship in an emergency.
"These results parallel similar findings in ants and fish, and show that very simple processes can underlie human behaviour" commented Dr Simon Reader of Utrecht University, who reports the findings today in the journal Biology Letters.
In the experiments, 72 people - 40 women and 32 men - were asked to complete questionnaires in one room, then taken to another room where they were to complete an experiment.
"We led them one of two routes into the room (while talking about other things), and, later, asked them to return to the starting room," said Dr Reader.
"All but one person took the route they had been led. What we were surprised by was how strong this effect was, even when the alternative route was much shorter," he said.
They preferred the long route even when the experimenter had drawn attention to the alternative route, or when the experimenter took the long route solely to pick up a fallen poster, eliminating the possibility that participants thought the experimenter had a good, but unknown, reason to take the long route.
By asking participants to collect the next guinea pig in the experiment, the scientists observed that each person in the chain copied the route of the participant before them: a simple tradition that meant the alternative route was never discovered.
In a fire or emergency, then, people would likely stick to the familiar evacuation route, even if it was much slower than an alternative.