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Biol Lett. 2007 Apr 22;3(2):137-9.

When to use social information: the advantage of large group size in individual decision making.

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Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regent's Park, NW1 4RY London, UK.


Correct decision making is crucial for animals to maximize foraging success and minimize predation risk. Group-living animals can make such decisions by using their own personal information or by pooling information with other group members (i.e. social information). Here, we investigate how individuals might best balance their use of personal and social information. We use a simple modelling approach in which individual decisions based upon social information are more likely to be correct when more individuals are involved and their personal information is more accurate. Our model predicts that when the personal information of group members is poor (accurate less than half the time), individuals should avoid pooling information. In contrast, when personal information is reliable (accurate at least half the time), individuals should use personal information less often and social information more often, and this effect should grow stronger in larger groups. One implication of this pattern is that social information allows less well-informed members of large groups to reach a correct decision with the same probability as more well-informed members of small groups. Thus, animals in larger groups may be able to minimize the costs of collecting personal information without impairing their ability to make correct decisions.

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