Individuals have evolved to be overly influenced by their neighbours, rather than rely on their own instinct and, as a result, groups become less responsive to changes in their natural environment, the findings showed.
“Copying what other individuals do can be useful in many situations, such as what kind of phone to buy, or for animals, which way to move or whether a situation is dangerous,” said lead author Colin Torney from the University of Exeter in Britain.
“However, the challenge is in evaluating personal beliefs when they contradict what others are doing. We showed that evolution will lead individuals to over-use social information, and copy others too much than they should,” Torney added.
The team suggests this is due to a “classic evolutionary conflict between individual and collective interest”.
“The result is that groups evolve to be unresponsive to changes in their environment and spend too much time copying one another, and not making their own decisions,” Torney said.
The team used mathematical models to look at how the use of social information has evolved within animal groups.