Collective motion from local attraction

J Theor Biol. 2011 Aug 21;283(1):145-51. doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2011.05.019. Epub 2011 May 23.


Many animal groups, for example schools of fish or flocks of birds, exhibit complex dynamic patterns while moving cohesively in the same direction. These flocking patterns have been studied using self-propelled particle models, most of which assume that collective motion arises from individuals aligning with their neighbours. Here, we propose a self-propelled particle model in which the only social force between individuals is attraction. We show that this model generates three different phases: swarms, undirected mills and moving aligned groups. By studying our model in the zero noise limit, we show how these phases depend on the relative strength of attraction and individual inertia. Moreover, by restricting the field of vision of the individuals and increasing the degree of noise in the system, we find that the groups generate both directed mills and three dynamically moving, 'rotating chain' structures. A rich diversity of patterns is generated by social attraction alone, which may provide insight into the dynamics of natural flocks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Communication
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Cooperative Behavior*
  • Group Processes
  • Models, Biological*
  • Movement / physiology*