Social feedback and the emergence of leaders and followers

Curr Biol. 2009 Feb 10;19(3):248-52. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2008.12.051. Epub 2009 Jan 29.


In many animal groups, certain individuals consistently appear at the forefront of coordinated movements [1-4]. How such leaders emerge is poorly understood [5, 6]. Here, we show that in pairs of sticklebacks, Gasterosteus aculeatus, leadership arises from individual differences in the way that fish respond to their partner's movements. Having first established that individuals differed in their propensity to leave cover in order to look for food, we randomly paired fish of varying boldness, and we used a Markov Chain model to infer the individual rules underlying their joint behavior. Both fish in a pair responded to each other's movements-each was more likely to leave cover if the other was already out and to return if the other had already returned. However, we found that bolder individuals displayed greater initiative and were less responsive to their partners, whereas shyer individuals displayed less initiative but followed their partners more faithfully; they also, as followers, elicited greater leadership tendencies in their bold partners. We conclude that leadership in this case is reinforced by positive social feedback.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior / physiology
  • Feedback*
  • Leadership*
  • Markov Chains
  • Models, Biological
  • Monte Carlo Method
  • Smegmamorpha / physiology*
  • Social Behavior*
  • United Kingdom
  • Video Recording