Performance of human groups in social foraging: the role of communication in consensus decision-making

King, A J and Narraway, C and Hodgson, L and Weatherill, A and Sommer, V and Summer, S (2010) Performance of human groups in social foraging: the role of communication in consensus decision-making. Biology Letters, 7 (2). pp. 237-240.

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Early hominids searched for dispersed food sources in a patchy, uncertain environment, and modern humans encounter equivalent spatial–temporal coordination problems on a daily basis. A fundamental, but untested assumption is that our evolved capacity for communication is integral to our success in such tasks, allowing information exchange and consensus decisions based on mutual consideration of pooled information. Here we examine whether communication enhances group performance in humans, and test the prediction that consensus decision-making underlies group success. We used bespoke radio-tagging methodology to monitor the incremental performance of communicating and non-communicating human groups (small group sizes of two to seven individuals), during a social foraging experiment. We found that communicating groups (n = 22) foraged more effectively than non-communicating groups (n = 21) and were able to reach consensus decisions (an ‘agreement’ on the most profitable foraging resource) significantly more often than non-communicating groups. Our data additionally suggest that gesticulations among group members played a vital role in the achievement of consensus decisions, and therefore highlight the importance of non-verbal signalling of intentions and desires for successful human cooperative behaviour.

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