The Evolutionary Benefit of Flocking Behaviors

The article “You May Have Been Born to Flock” suggests that people have an instinctive and evolutionary reason for creating networks. All animals have a tendency toward “collective behaviors,” which basically just means that animals tend to gravitate toward other members of their species. Humans are no different, as they tend to subconsciously seek each other out and follow the lead of others. Scientist Margarete Boos designed an experiment to prove that humans demonstrate flocking behavior by creating a virtual space. All the subject could see in this virtual space were black dots, which represented other subjects in the experiment. Remarkably, people tended to gather in groups and follow similar patterns like a school of fish would, even though all they could see were indistinguishable black dots.

In class we learned that humans tend to have many weak ties to others and only a few notable strong ties. There seems to be an evolutionary basis for creating networks and weak ties. The primary example given in the article is the idea of navigation; one person on their own could be very likely to get lost, but many people traveling in a group are far less likely to do so. This idea is know as the many wrongs principle, which states that wrong conclusions are cancelled out in groups due to the majority of the members of the group having the correct answer.

Navigation is only one of the reasons that people tend to create networks and tie themselves to one another; there are other benefits, such as determining what the prevailing social convention is during an uncertain social situation. This tendency is know as social proof. Going back in evolutionary history, following the crowd was often a sure way to find food, shelter, and other necessities, as well as a good way to avoid danger.


There is some justification for the strong triadic closure principle in flocking behaviors as well. One of the reasons for strong triadic closure is trust; if people inherently trust groups of strangers to lead them where they need to go, wouldn’t it stand to reason that trusting a friend’s close friend could only be beneficial?


2 thoughts on “The Evolutionary Benefit of Flocking Behaviors”

  1. I agree with this post. Seeing how networks have become so relevant today, and are not just a new invention, and have been around for a while helping with basic developmental and coping stages of humans and animals. I think that networks are more than just social interactions through internet and wires in a modern era. In fact, networks have often been used as a form of survival mechanisms throughout generations.

  2. This post, as well as the article you linked to, remind me of the Bystander Apathy experiment conducted by John Darley and Bibb Latane in 1964. Yes, people yearn for interaction and be in groups with others. I just find it fascinating that this group dynamic that people actively seek out can be detrimental to an individual in a dire situation.

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