Studying how ants organize division of labor within a colony can lend insight into how political polarization occurs in human society.
Enlarge / Studying how ants arrange division of labor inside a colony can lend perception into how political polarization happens in human society.

Ants could also be tiny critters with tiny brains, however these social bugs are able to collectively organizing themselves right into a extremely environment friendly group to make sure the colony survives. And evidently the social dynamics of how division of labor emerges in an ant colony is much like how political polarization develops in human social networks, in response to a latest paper within the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

“Our findings suggest that division of labor and political polarization—two social phenomena not typically considered together—may actually be driven by the same process,” stated co-author Chris Tokita, a graduate scholar in ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University. “Division of labor is seen as a benefit to societies, while political polarization usually isn’t, but we found that the same dynamics could theoretically give rise to them both.”

Tokita and his adviser/co-author, Corina Tarnita, have been collaborating with a gaggle at Rockefeller University that was utilizing digicam monitoring to check ants—particularly, how division of labor emerges in very small teams (between 12-16 ants). Their job was to plan a mannequin for a behavioral mechanism that might clarify the patterns that the Rockefeller individuals had noticed of their experiments. “Originally, we thought social interactions might play a part,” Tokita instructed Ars. “But it turns out we didn’t need to think about social interactions to capture their results.”

Tokita was conversant in the rising physique of analysis within the social sciences involving opinion dynamics fashions—that’s, how individuals’s opinions can change over time as they work together with and affect one another. And he observed that the emergence of political polarization inside such fashions was much like how division of labor emerges amongst ant colonies.

He thought it ought to be potential to mix the response threshold mannequin he’d developed for the ants’ social dynamics with the essential mechanism behind political polarization: a suggestions loop between social affect and interplay bias. Social affect is the tendency of people to develop into much like these they work together with, whereas interplay bias describes our tendency to work together with others who’re already like us.

In Tokita’s authentic ant mannequin, the ants select their jobs throughout the colony based mostly on which want meets a crucial inside threshold. For instance, if one ant has a decrease threshold for starvation, it will likely be extra prone to go forage for meals, whereas one other ant with a low threshold for concern concerning the colony’s larvae will commit extra time to the nursery. Over time, every ant may have extra interactions with different ants with thresholds much like its, resulting in the pure emergence of two teams: foragers and care suppliers.

This is often a constructive improvement, because it permits for the environment friendly functioning of the colony. However, Tokita and Tarnita discovered that in case you add a powerful suggestions loop between social affect and interplay bias into the mannequin, the 2 teams quickly develop into so divided that they not often work together in any respect, to the detriment of the colony as a complete.

According to Tokita, when solely social affect is current, people work together randomly and develop into related, so no division of labor naturally develops. When solely interplay bias is current, people do not differentiate, so you aren’t getting social factions. When each social forces are current, a powerful suggestions loop develops between them, leading to each division of labor and polarized social networks. As each social affect and interplay bias enhance, particular person behavior turns into extra specialised (biased) and people more and more work together with those that are related.

“We basically showed that there are critical tipping points where you expect individuals to diverge in their behavior, and that’s when there is a strong enough bias towards those [most similar] to you,” stated Tokita. Interaction bias may nonetheless exist under that threshold, however it in all probability will not be robust sufficient to supply the robust suggestions loop that additional reinforces the polarization.

According to Tokita, it’s potential to scale back that robust divide just by interacting a bit bit extra with those that are much less like us, and/or letting our inside thresholds shift a bit so we are rather less like our present “in” group. This primarily erases the variations. When that occurs, “You don’t get division of labor, you don’t really get the polarized social network structure,” he stated.

This is a phenomenon that has additionally been noticed in colonies of honeybees in quest of a brand new location for his or her hive. The bees ship out scouts, who come again and report on potential websites. Other bees then exit to take a look at the websites, come again to report, and so forth, till the hive finally reaches a consensus and all of the bees relocate to the identical location.

“If you had the kind of social interactions that causes the group to become very divided or polarized, you would never reach consensus,” stated Tokita. A honeybee colony the place two robust factions of bees are vying for various places will find yourself splitting in two and should not survive.

Tokita et al.’s findings are per these of a examine final yr by researchers on the Santa Fe Institute. That examine concluded that social notion bias may greatest be considered as an emergent property of our social networks, dependent solely on the relative sizes of the bulk and minority teams in addition to the extent to which like nodes related to different like nodes. It additionally instructed that one probably efficient technique to counter bias could be to diversify social networks. However, individuals typically strenuously resist such diversification efforts, partly as a result of the related cognitive dissonance will be so excessive and uncomfortable.

The excessive diploma of specialization throughout the sciences is one other instance of a naturally rising division of labor that may be helpful however flip detrimental if scientists in particular disciplines primarily work together solely with these inside their speciality, isolating themselves from new concepts in different fields. “I think there’s a lot of cases where there are really interesting ideas that are broadly applicable to other areas, but it’s hard to hear about them because we are sort of in silos,” Tokita stated, including that he appreciated the possibility to deliver concepts from sociology and political science into the realm of animal collective behavior.

Tokita cautions in opposition to studying an excessive amount of into these findings. “It’s pointing to new research directions, but it can’t directly say anything about politics necessarily,” he stated. “People aren’t ants, and ants aren’t people. We just wanted to bring the social dynamics, and the connections between these different collective behaviors, into a broader context.”

DOI: Journal of the Royal Society Interface, 2020. 10.1098/rsif.2019.0564 (About DOIs).

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