News

Dr. Ashley Ward featured on Catalyst



12 April 2010

Ashley Ward studies the decision making process in groups of fish. Photo credit: Alex Jordan.
Ashley Ward studies the decision making process in groups of fish. Photo credit: Alex Jordan.

Research led by Dr. Ashley Ward was featured on ABC's Catalyst on April 8, explaining that even fish can feel the effects of peer pressure when making decisions in group situations.

"Mathematically, there are some similarities between how groups of fish and groups of humans behave," said Dr. Ward.

Many different animals live and make decisions as a group, but research by Dr. Ward and PhD student, James Herbert-Read, suggests that group decision-making strategies may be more similar across the animal kingdom than previously thought.

Dr. Ward, who uses invasive mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) to study fish behaviour, said both fish and humans use a strategy called the quorum response when making decisions as a group.

"Animals usually can't get together and discuss what they are going to do, so they must use the behaviour of other animals in the group to inform their own decision.

"Only after enough members of the group have made individual decisions does everyone start to follow," explained Dr. Ward.

The quorum response is a simple but effective filter for removing 'bad' information from the decision-making process. It also helps groups of animals deal with the difficult problem of making fast as well as accurate decisions.

"In a split-second 'life and death' situation, a decision that is correct but slow just isn't good enough!" said Dr. Ward.

The ability of groups to respond rapidly once they reach a quorum means that this amazing mechanism allows both speed and accuracy in decision-making.

Dr. Ashley Ward's April 8 Catalyst episode can be viewed on ABC's Catalyst website