Groups have a larger cognitive capacity than individuals

Takao Sasaki, Stephen Pratt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

34 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Increasing the number of options can paradoxically lead to worse decisions, a phenomenon known as cognitive overload [1]. This happens when an individual decision-maker attempts to digest information exceeding its processing capacity. Highly integrated groups, such as social insect colonies, make consensus decisions that combine the efforts of many members, suggesting that these groups can overcome individual limitations [2-4]. Here we report that an ant colony choosing a new nest site is less vulnerable to cognitive overload than an isolated ant making this decision on her own. We traced this improvement to differences in individual behavior. In whole colonies, each ant assesses only a small subset of available sites, and the colony combines their efforts to thoroughly explore all options. An isolated ant, on the other hand, must personally assess a larger number of sites to approach the same level of option coverage. By sharing the burden of assessment, the colony avoids overtaxing the abilities of its members.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalCurrent Biology
Volume22
Issue number19
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 9 2012

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Ants
Formicidae
insect colonies
social insects
nesting sites
decision making
Decision making
Aptitude
Processing
Individuality
Insects
Consensus
Decision Making
ant colonies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)

Cite this

Groups have a larger cognitive capacity than individuals. / Sasaki, Takao; Pratt, Stephen.

In: Current Biology, Vol. 22, No. 19, 09.10.2012.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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