Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Ants share decision-making, lessen vulnerability to 'information overload'

Date:
September 24, 2012
Source:
Arizona State University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Summary:
A research study with ants shows that collective decision-making proves more efficient than individual selection.

Ants utilize a strategy to handle "information overload" by placing the burden of making complicated decisions on the backs of the entire colony, rather than on an individual ant. Here, a small group of house-hunting ants congregate near the entrance to their nest.
Credit: Takao Sasaki and James S. Waters

Scientists at Arizona State University have discovered that ants utilize a strategy to handle "information overload." Temnothorax rugatulus ants, commonly found living in rock crevices in the Southwest, place the burden of making complicated decisions on the backs of the entire colony, rather than on an individual ant.

In a study published in the scientific journal Current Biology, Stephen Pratt, an associate professor in ASU's School of Life Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Takao Sasaki, a graduate student in Pratt's lab, suggest that the key to preventing cognitive overload is found in collective decision-making, rather than in multi-tasking.

"I think the reason people are interested in this is because as humans, we can become overloaded with information -- and that can possibly be detrimental both to our health and to how effectively we make decisions," Pratt said. "There's a sense that as a society, we are being more and more overwhelmed by information."

Previous research has shown that ant colonies have the ability to compare the quality of two potential nest sites -- even if no single ant visits both sites. Pratt and Sasaki hypothesized that a colony could choose a high-quality nest from many more options more effectively than individual ants, because each member of the colony assesses only a small part of portion of available sites, and then shares the information with the entire colony.

"People usually think of ants as sort of stupid, that they can't really compare options, or that they don't have good cognition," said Sasaki. "But actually, individual ants can compare options, and that's why they too experience cognitive overload -- a well-documented phenomenon in human beings."

The pair designed experiments with artificial nest sites to evaluate the ants' decision-making abilities. Both colonies and individual ants were given two levels of tasks. Ants had to choose between two nests, or they had to choose among eight nests. In both experiments, half the nests were unsuitable. Nests are frequently chosen based on entrance and cavity size, as well as darkness and other features. Researchers discovered that individual ants made much worse decisions when faced with eight options rather than two, meaning that they experienced cognitive overload. Colonies, on the other hand, did equally well with either two or eight options, showing that they could handle the harder problem as a collective.

The study shows what Pratt believes to be the answer to two questions: What do you get out of being a collective intelligence? And secondly, why and how is a group smarter than an individual?

"Living in a group is costly in many ways, so ants must get some benefit from doing it," said Pratt. "By sharing the burden of decision-making, colonies avoid the mistakes that a solitary animal makes when taking on too much information. What's great about these ants is that we can see exactly how they do this, by making sure that no ant has to process more information than it is able to."

Pratt added that this is one problem ants can solve, but that there are other problems ants face that we might be able to learn from.

"What we really want is a more complete understanding as to how this society works as a kind of distributed brain," Pratt said. He believes their research may provide insight into how to handle information excess in society and will have applications in collective robotics.

This study was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (1012029) and the Arizona State University Graduate Research Support Program.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Arizona State University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Arizona State University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "Ants share decision-making, lessen vulnerability to 'information overload'." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 September 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120924142436.htm>.
Arizona State University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. (2012, September 24). Ants share decision-making, lessen vulnerability to 'information overload'. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 16, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120924142436.htm
Arizona State University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "Ants share decision-making, lessen vulnerability to 'information overload'." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120924142436.htm (accessed September 16, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) The South's tobacco country is surviving, and even thriving in some cases, as demand overseas keeps growers in the fields of one of America's oldest cash crops. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) Squid experts in New Zealand thawed and examined an unusual catch on Tuesday: a colossal squid. It was captured in Antarctica's remote Ross Sea in December last year and has been frozen for eight months. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Conservationists Face Uphill PR Battle With New Shark Rules

Conservationists Face Uphill PR Battle With New Shark Rules

Newsy (Sep. 14, 2014) New conservation measures for shark fishing face an uphill PR battle in the fight to slow shark extinction. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Newsy (Sep. 13, 2014) A U.K. survey found that journalists consumed the most amount of coffee, but that's only the tip of the coffee-related statistics iceberg. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

      Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile: iPhone Android Web
      Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins