University of Oxford
The relationship between social structure and group decision-making is a topic of intense current interest across several disciplines. To study this we combine ethology, computer vision, GPS technology, and statistical physics.
Hierarchical organisation is widespread in the societies of humans and other animals. But does the “alpha” individual necessarily have the most influence over group decisions? We measured social dominance and leadership in two systems: dog packs and pigeon flocks.
We investigated whether family dogs maintain clear rank orders, and whether there are relationship between leader follower roles, social status, movement characteristics and personality traits. Based on the logged the trajectories of dogs we detected a loose but consistent hierarchical leader-follower structure within the dog pack. The dogs' positions in this leadership network correlated with the dominance order, trainability and aggression obtained from personality questionnaires.
Owners of the 800 million dogs worldwide are probably interested in how a family dog pack moves during unleashed walks. Our results contradict with the widely held assumption that dogs adopt a wolf-like social structure.
Additionally, as there are multiple evidences that dogs show human analogue behaviours, there is a possibility of conducting similar studies observing human behaviours, e.g. walking with children and detecting interactions between individuals in human groups.
In case of pigeon flocks, contrary to the results of dog packs, we found that birds’ ranks varied widely between the two contexts. This confirms that even in societies with robust hierarchical dominance, alternative hierarchies can exist during decision making, in which different competences structure interactions.
The flocking of autonomous robotic units is a yet unsolved challenge. Whether we can get ideas for the solutions and the ubiquity of hierarchies in human society make this research particularly interesting.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)