Discrete modes of social information processing predict individual behavior of fish in a group

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Sep 19;114(38):10149-10154. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1703817114. Epub 2017 Sep 5.


Individual computations and social interactions underlying collective behavior in groups of animals are of great ethological, behavioral, and theoretical interest. While complex individual behaviors have successfully been parsed into small dictionaries of stereotyped behavioral modes, studies of collective behavior largely ignored these findings; instead, their focus was on inferring single, mode-independent social interaction rules that reproduced macroscopic and often qualitative features of group behavior. Here, we bring these two approaches together to predict individual swimming patterns of adult zebrafish in a group. We show that fish alternate between an "active" mode, in which they are sensitive to the swimming patterns of conspecifics, and a "passive" mode, where they ignore them. Using a model that accounts for these two modes explicitly, we predict behaviors of individual fish with high accuracy, outperforming previous approaches that assumed a single continuous computation by individuals and simple metric or topological weighing of neighbors' behavior. At the group level, switching between active and passive modes is uncorrelated among fish, but correlated directional swimming behavior still emerges. Our quantitative approach for studying complex, multimodal individual behavior jointly with emergent group behavior is readily extensible to additional behavioral modes and their neural correlates as well as to other species.

Keywords: behavioral modeling; collective behavior; information processing; social interactions; zebrafish.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Male
  • Models, Biological*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Swimming*
  • Zebrafish*