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Information Cascade in Hive-minds

Nature has many examples of animals who exhibit swarming, or hive-mind-like, behavior. Swarms are typically made up of hundreds, if not thousands, of individual organisms that act as one to achieve a goal that they could not normally accomplish alone. Some animals that swarm include schools of fish, flocks of birds, and insects. Particularly, bees exhibit unique hive-mind behavior that closely resemble a standard information cascade.

In the Scientific American article, it talks about how bees decide to move their hive to a new location. This requires a consensus among all hive members in order to prevent the colony from splitting up. Their behavior draws strikingly similar parallels to the herding experiment described by Anderson and Holt (p. 485 “Networks Crowds and Markets” ). Scout bees are sent out in order to find suitable hive sites, and “dance” to gather support for their scouted location once they get back. Here’s where the information cascade starts, as only the specific bees who have scouted a location actually know anything about the location. The study in the article simplifies the bee’s choices by only providing them two suitable nesting sites. Each bee in the hive then watches the scout’s dance, and if they are convinced, they begin to dance as well. What is interesting is that the bees not only choose which location they want, but they can also “sway” another bee by head-butting it to interrupt their dance. The bees thus have two competing mechanisms for choosing between places; one is a positive influence that gets other bees to show their support, while the other is an inhibitory practice of interrupting the dance of the opposing bee faction.

The bees always end up choosing a hive unanimously, showing that the information cascade results every time. A slight difference from normal herding behavior is the fact that a single bee can continue to change its position throughout the dancing process, but eventually will conform to the majority. The information cascade for insects is incredibly important because it allows the entire community to act as a cohesive unit and come to a decision. The bee’s method of choosing a new hive is an efficient and powerful decision making process that explains how a complex system of organisms can work together towards a common goal. Just imagine how quickly our government could form legislation if ¬†our politicians could come to a consensus by dancing and head-butting each other until a unanimous vote was made.



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