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.

Related Articles


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 January 27, 2015 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 January 27, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

How To: Mixed Green Salad Topped With Camembert Cheese

How To: Mixed Green Salad Topped With Camembert Cheese

Rumble (Jan. 26, 2015) Learn how to make a mixed green salad topped with a pan-seared camembert cheese in only a minute! Music: Courtesy of Audio Network. Video provided by Rumble
Powered by NewsLook.com
Water Fleas Prepare for Space Voyage

Water Fleas Prepare for Space Voyage

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Jan. 26, 2015) Scientists are preparing a group of water fleas for a unique voyage into space. The aquatic crustaceans, known as Daphnia, can be used as a miniature model for biomedical research, and their reproductive and swimming behaviour will be tested for signs of stress while on board the International Space Station. Jim Drury went to meet the team. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Husky Puppy Plays With Ferret

Husky Puppy Plays With Ferret

Rumble (Jan. 26, 2015) It looks like this 2-month-old Husky puppy and the family ferret are going to be the best of friends. Look at how much fun they&apos;re having together! Credit to &apos;Vira&apos;. Video provided by Rumble
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Model Flying, Walking Drone After Vampire Bats

Scientists Model Flying, Walking Drone After Vampire Bats

Buzz60 (Jan. 26, 2015) Swiss scientists build a new drone that can both fly and walk, modeling it after the movements of common vampire bats. Jen Markham (@jenmarkham) has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

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