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 surprisingly easy to anticipate what a crowd will do. We've developed computer programs that recognize, from videos, 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, such as devastating locusts swarms or suspicious activity within crowds. 'There are common principles that operate in collective systems and revealing these allows us to tackle a wide range of problems, from the conservation of migratory species, to the invasion of tumour cells, and the development of tools that allow humans to make better collective decisions - and to avoid the considerable pitfalls of collective stupidity'.