Leaders, followers and group decision-making

Commun Integr Biol. 2009;2(2):147-50. doi: 10.4161/cib.7562.


Social animals have to make a multitude of group decisions on a daily basis. At the most basic level, this will involve coordination of activities and travel directions. In groups of insects, birds and fish, much of this 'coordination' can be the result of relatively simple interaction patterns among group members. Such systems are self-organizing, and often do not require specific leaders, or followers. However, in more socially complex groups, achieving collective group action-a consensus-may not be accomplished by simple rules alone. Instead, a consensus may be reached by the averaging of preferences (democracy), or by following the choices of specific leaders (despotism). In this mini-review, we discuss the conditions necessary for despotism in animal groups, and focus upon new studies investigating coordinated actions in primates. We ask how specific leaders arise and why others follow them-providing new insight into the mechanisms of effective leadership in groups characterized by strong social relationships.

Keywords: decisions; followers; group-living; leaders; social relationships.