Effects of social group size on information transfer and task allocation

Stephen Wilson Pacala, Deborah M. Gordon, H. C.J. Godfray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

144 Scopus citations


Social animals exchange information during social interaction. The rate of interaction and, hence, the rate of information exchange, typically changes with density and density may be affected by the size of the social group. We investigate models in which each individual may be engaged in one of several tasks. For example, the different tasks could represent alternative foraging locations exploited by an ant colony. An individual's decision about which task to pursue depends both on environmental stimuli and on interactions among individuals. We examine how group size affects the allocation of individuals among the various tasks. Analysis of the models shows the following. (1) Simple interactions among individuals with limited ability to process information can lead to group behaviour that closely approximates the predictions of evolutionary optimality models, (2) Because per capita rates of social interaction may increase with group size, larger groups may be more efficient than smaller ones at tracking a changing environment, (3) Group behaviour is determined both by each individual's interaction with environmental stimuli and by social exchange of information. To keep these processes in balance across a range of group sizes, organisms are predicted to regulate per capita rates of social interaction and (4) Stochastic models show, at least in some cases, that the results described here occur even in small groups of approximately ten individuals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)127-165
Number of pages39
JournalEvolutionary Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1996

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • Group size
  • Information transfer
  • Social interaction
  • Task allocation


Dive into the research topics of 'Effects of social group size on information transfer and task allocation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this