Social density processes regulate the functioning and performance of foraging human teams

King, A J and Myatt, J P and Fuertbauer, I and Oesch, N and Dunbar, R I M and Sumner, S and Usherwood, J R and Hailes, S and Brown, M R (2015) Social density processes regulate the functioning and performance of foraging human teams. Scientific Reports (Nature), 5.

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Abstract

Social density processes impact the activity and order of collective behaviours in a variety of biological systems. Much effort has been devoted to understanding how density of people affects collective human motion in the context of pedestrian flows. However, there is a distinct lack of empirical data investigating the effects of social density on human behaviour in cooperative contexts. Here, we examine the functioning and performance of human teams in a central-place foraging arena using high-resolution GPS data. We show that team functioning (level of coordination) is greatest at intermediate social densities, but contrary to our expectations, increased coordination at intermediate densities did not translate into improved collective foraging performance, and foraging accuracy was equivalent across our density treatments. We suggest that this is likely a consequence of foragers relying upon visual channels (local information) to achieve coordination but relying upon auditory channels (global information) to maximise foraging returns. These findings provide new insights for the development of more sophisticated models of human collective behaviour that consider different networks for communication (e.g. visual and vocal) that have the potential to operate simultaneously in cooperative contexts.