Emergent Collective Sensing in Human Groups


Despite its importance, human collective intelligence remains enigmatic. We know what features are predictive of collective intelligence in human groups, but we do not understand the specific mechanisms that lead to the emergence of this distributed information processing ability. In contrast, there is a well-developed literature of experiments that have exposed the mechanisms of collective intelligence in nonhuman animal species. We adapt a recent experiment designed to study collective sensing in groups of fish in order to better understand the mechanisms that may underly the emergence of collective intelligence in human groups. We find that humans in our experiments act at a high level like fish but with two additional behaviors: independent exploration and targeted copying. These distinctively human activities may partially explain the emergence of collective sensing in our task environment at group sizes and on times scales orders of magnitudes smaller than were observed in fish.

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