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Conformity without majority? The case for demarcating social from majority influences

Van Leeuwen, E. J. C., & Haun, D. B. M. (2014). Conformity without majority? The case for demarcating social from majority influences. Animal Behaviour, 96, 187-194. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2014.08.004.
In this review, we explore the extent to which the recent evidence for conformity in nonhuman animals may alternatively be explained by the animals' preference for social information regardless of the number of individuals demonstrating the respective behaviour. Conformity as a research topic originated in human psychology and has been described as the phenomenon in which individuals change their behaviour to match the behaviour displayed by the majority of group members. Recent studies have aimed to investigate the same process in nonhuman animals; however, most of the adopted designs have not been able to control for social influences independent of any majority influence and some studies have not even incorporated a majority in their designs. This begs the question to what extent the ‘conformity interpretation’ is preliminary and should be revisited in light of animals' general susceptibility to social influences. Similarly, demarcating social from majority influences sheds new light on the original findings in human psychology and motivates reinterpretation of the reported behavioural patterns in terms of social instead of majority influences. Conformity can have profound ramifications for individual fitness and group dynamics; identifying the exact source responsible for animals' behavioural adjustments is essential for understanding animals' learning biases and interpreting cross-species data in terms of evolutionary processes.
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

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