“Social influencers: what can we learn from animals?” [Oxford University]

[From Oxford University]

“Social influencers: what can we learn from animals?

http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2019-12-05-social-influencers-what-can-we-learn-animals#

Research from Oxford University calls us to reconsider how behaviours may spread through societies of wild animals, and how this might provide new insights into human social networks.

Our social connections to one another, whether it be online or in real life, give rise to our ‘social networks’. Previously, it has often been assumed that the individuals with the most social connections are the primary ‘social influencers’ and most likely to acquire, and spread, new behaviours. Behaviours were viewed to spread simply based on the amount of exposure to others, just like contracting a contagious disease might depend on exposure to infected individuals. This viewpoint has not only been applied to humans, but also a range of different animal species too.

However, a new study from Oxford University suggests our understanding of animal behaviours are enhanced by drawing on the latest findings in human systems, which show that the most influential individuals are not necessarily the most social ones. Instead, the most important individuals often tend to be those occurring in tight knit friendship circles. Even though these individuals may have relatively few social connections, they wield high influence within their cliques and promote the rapid spread of new behaviours.

The new study, published in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, shows how these recent insights, coming from contexts as varied as how new technologies are adopted, how political movements occur, and even how social media hashtags spread, can now be harnessed for furthering our understanding of animal societies too. The study presents examples showing how even in the most basic systems, small changes in how behaviours spread can enormously affect which animals might adopt a behaviour, and which might be important to spreading it.

The author of the study, Dr Josh Firth, said: ‘Just like in humans, various animal species are known to be capable of social considerations, such as when to adopt a behaviour, or who to learn from. These choices mean that behaviours don’t spread like diseases.’

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The study:

Considering Complexity: Animal Social Networks and Behavioural Contagions
Josh A. Firth

Published:December 03, 2019

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2019.10.009

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