In many animal groups, coordinated activity is facilitated by the emergence of leaders and followers. Although the identity of leaders is to some extent predictable, most groups experience frequent changes of leadership. How do group members cope with such changes in their social role? Here, we compared the foraging behaviour of pairs of stickleback fish after a period of either (i) role reinforcement, which involved rewarding the shyer follower for following, and the bolder leader for leading, or (ii) role reversal, which involved rewarding the shyer follower for leading, and the bolder leader for following. We found that, irrespective of an individual's temperament, its tendency to follow is malleable, whereas the tendency to initiate collective movement is much more resistant to change. As a consequence of this lack of flexibility in initiative, greater temperamental differences within a pair led to improved performance when typical roles were reinforced, but to impaired performance when typical roles were reversed.
Keywords: behavioural plasticity; collective movement; followership; leadership; personality; responsiveness.