Groups have a larger cognitive capacity than individuals

Takao Sasaki, Stephen Pratt

Research output: Contribution to journalLetter

38 Scopus citations

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)
Pages (from-to)R827-R829
JournalCurrent Biology
Volume22
Issue number19
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 9 2012

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

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

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