Iain Couzin

Biologist

Understanding Collective Behaviour

‘Among all the animal groups we have studied so far, human crowds were the most predictable,’ says Iain Couzin. ‘Although we can hardly guess what a single individual will do, it is very easy to anticipate what a crowd will do. We've developed cameras and computer programs that recognize how individuals move, where they look, and how they interact with each other.’

Iain Couzin is the Chair of Biodiversity and Collective Behaviour at the University of Konstanz, Germany and Director of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Department of Collective Behaviour. Earlier he worked at Princeton and Oxford University. His work aims to reveal the fundamental principles that underlie evolved collective behaviour, and consequently his research includes the study of a wide range of biological systems, from insect swarms to fish schools and primate groups.

The findings are also used to reduce the chances of a catastrophe with huge crowds in for instance football stadiums or festivals like Love Parade in 2010 in Duisburg. Couzin: ‘Understanding the mechanisms of crowd behaviour helps us to defuse dangerous zones such as bridges or underpasses. In the meantime, we can simulate how crowds move in certain streets and turn off sources of danger when building new neighbourhoods from the outset.’

Collective Behaviour, Max Planck Institute, Biodiversity, Biology, Netherlands PINC.19