Group Dynamics – Who's In, Who's Out.

Many animals live in groups and primates are generally thought to be interesting in terms of human behavior. Not, of course, that we fit into any of the observed patterns, but behavioral scientists have fun looking for parallels.

When we look at larger groups than small family groups, we see social structures based on a dominance hierarchy. The dominant male, and it is the prerogative of the male, is at the center of the group with members spread out to the periphery. Their spatial position is a good indicator of their group status.  The normal model is that the subordinates run away after loosing a fight, or at least a peremptory challenge.

Evers et al in this week’s Public Library of Science are exercising a different model. In this case, subordinates in the group avoid more dominant members in order to avoid a dust-up (1). This well-mannered approach leads to a spread of individuals with the least dominant at the periphery and individuals getting more dominant as they get more centrally located.
This leads to a more structured group and doesn’t appear to be particular surprising. Of course, everybody won’t always be polite all of the time and some running about to avoid a thrashing will occur so that the structure is a little fluid.

Much more interesting though, is the result for really large groups. In this case the politeness leads to a well spread out population with the formation of smaller social groups among the plebs.

Not that these sub-groups are seditious and ready to start a coup, rather they are harmless local “clubs” which make their members happy. If you end up at the periphery of one of the peripheral sub-groups, it will take a degree of self-delusion to feel good about your life style. It might be time to emigrate. Easy to do in the computer model of Evers et al, but not so simple in real life.


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