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Information Cascades in the Animal Kingdom

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/cultural-copying-and-learning-observed-in-monkey-and-whale-species/

It is not well known to most that there are social structures within the animal kingdom. Each new experiment that ties networks into a group of animals is proving the fact that there are structures in the animal kingdom, same as in the human world. Two separate studies were conducted and compiled into one article. While they were completed by two different teams of researchers and were about different animals, the experiments had the same goal in mind: to determine if the choices of some animals cause an information cascade. Another way of putting that is that the researchers main goal was to figure out if animals change their behavior or their behavior is influenced by other animals in a large group. It was found that wild velvet monkeys often follow social cues when it comes to selecting their snacks. If newcomers see a large group of other velvet monkeys picking a specific food over another, the newcomer will often follow that lead and base their decision on the information gathered by the group. It was also found that humpback whales will adopt the behaviors of others when spending a certain period of time together. Originally, it was found that whales would blow bubbles under schools of fish, clumping them all together, so when they lunged upwards, they were able to obtain a large amount of fish to eat. It was then recorded that one whale started slapping the surface first and then blowing bubbles and would have more success. Soon after that, 37% of the whales were recorded to follow this method. An information cascade started in both groups of animals. This was determined by using a network-based diffusion analysis. All of this shows there is a certain network structure in animals of all different species, despite past belief.

The information gathered from these experiments can be related to the idea of information cascades that was discussed in class. There are two main categories as to why someone-or in this case some animal-might decide to follow a crowd: information-based and direct benefit-based. In information based, the reasoning behind why one chooses what they do is based on what people in a crowd know while in direct benefit-based, being a part of a crowd has benefits in itself. In the case of the velvet monkeys and the humpback whales, newcomers made their decision based on what the other animals in the crowds knew meaning there was an information-based cascade. If the new velvet monkey witnesses all of the older monkeys eating this same snack, then they must have certain information about why that snack is better; therefore, the newcomer should chose that same snack as well, which it does. If the humpback whales witness another method of feeding and other whales also start to adopt this new method then the newcomer must assume that that group has information that is unknown to the newcomer. Therefore, it would benefit the newcomer to adopt this feeding method as well, so all of the other newcomers adopt this method and a cascade begins.

In both studies, an information cascade happens because they both start out with either a single individual or a small group of individuals that adopt this one behavior and then slowly, over time, more and more individuals start to show this same behavior. Soon, a large group of animals are deciding to base their decisions on the fact that the large group most likely has information unbeknownst to the newcomers. This example is parallel with the examples that were discussed in class.  

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