How do birds in a flock all make the same decisions at the same time?

Illustration for article titled How do birds in a flock all make the same decisions at the same time?

The flocking behavior of birds, fish, and other animals is the result of "collective decision making." Now, researchers have created a computer model of how hundreds of birds can decide, seemingly simultaneously, to switch directions or land.


New research out of Eötvös University, Budapest, has shown that to understand how birds, fish, and other animals flock, it's best to look at much simpler objects. So scientists created a computer simulation that used self-propelled particles instead of animals. Using their simulation, the researchers found that what seems like a collective decision is actually made up of many inputs from the environment. Their work offers insight into why a large group of independent organisms can make lightning fast decisions as a group. The shift from, say, flying to landing, is created by the combined weight of tiny influences on each individual, including velocity of each and their location in the flock.

This research could be used to help the next generation of killer swarming robots react faster in large groups.


Research published in the New Journal of Physics.

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I thought it was pretty well understood that such groups of animals were controlled by a relatively simple set of commands that each organism followed to create the emergent behavior seen in the flock/school.

So what exactly is this new research contributing? Just refining the understanding? Or was previously it just a hypothesis and they were the first people to test it?