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RoboRoaches and the Information Cascade

Information cascades are not only for humans. Other members of the animal kingdom also get influenced by it. Cockroaches for example get influenced by it when they decide on a shelter. Scientists have found that a typical cockroach decides on a shelter based on its darkness and on whether there are other cockroaches in it. They prefer really dark places over lighter ones. If there are two shelters with similar lack of lighting, scientists have found that a group of cockroaches choose only one of them, in other words they all gather in one of the shelters. It seems that one pioneer cockroach would choose a shelter based on its darkness. After that, when other cockroaches see that the pioneer cockroach has already settled in that shelter, they go there as well. In a sense, there is an information cascade happening in the group of cockroaches. One of them chooses a shelter among the choices presented and the other cockroaches just follow the first one. To reinforce this idea, scientist decided to mess up with the cockroaches’ preference to darkness. They introduced robotic cockroaches in the cockroach groups. These robotic cockroaches looked like mini matchboxes; however they were accepted by the cockroach group because they smell like them. The scientists presented the group of cockroaches with two shelter choices: a dark one and a lighted one. Before any of the real cockroaches could act as the pioneer roach, the roboroaches went on and chose the well-lit shelter. Interestingly, despite the cockroaches’ normal preference to darker shelters, they chose to stay at the well-lit shelter where the roboroaches were.

In class we discussed about how information cascades make individuals abandon their normal preferences for a specific item or choice when they see that other individuals are cherry-picking the other choice. The cockroaches in the experiment abandoned their normal preference for dark shelters when they saw other cockroaches gathering in the lighter one.



One Response to “ RoboRoaches and the Information Cascade ”

  • Controlling Cockroaches

    Wow. That is really fascinating that cockroaches would choose being around other cockroaches over a place that is dark (and safer for them!). What an interesting way to prove that social circumstances can cause us to override our normal preferences, even in the case of safety!

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