Wandering through other peoples’ blogs again and I fell upon a neat collaboration experiment…

Discovery Channel has published an article ‘Cockroaches make group decisions‘ describing how scientists placed the bugs in a petri dish containing shelters and observed how they divided themselves up. Cockroaches are silent creatures. The results are fascinating:

After much “consultation,” through antenna probing, touching and more, the cockroaches divided themselves up perfectly within the shelters. For example, if 50 insects were placed in a dish with three shelters, each with a capacity for 40 bugs, 25 roaches huddled together in the first shelter, 25 gathered in the second shelter, and the third was left vacant.

When the researchers altered this setup so that it had three shelters with a capacity for more than 50 insects, all of the cockroaches moved into the first “house.”

I’m always fascinated when learning how different species co-ordinate and compete. Ants are the usual topic of conversation because their emergent behaviours have been successfully applied to robots and simulation programs.

But this simple experiment did get me thinking. How fascinating would it be to conduct the same experiment with a large petri dish (room, perhaps) and a group of people, such as a team or department, given one instruction ‘you have 5 minutes to get inside a shelter’. Observing that experiment could be fun – you’d sure learn a lot about the dynamics of the ‘team’…

Thanks to Clive Thomson who’s blog entry caused the stumble 🙂

[Update] …I wonder why the cockroaches decided to do an even split… it would be interesting to continue the experiment with additional shelters matching divisions (e.g. remove 2 cockroachs, reducing the group to 48, and provide 3 shelters capable of taking up to 30. Would they split into 2 groups of 24 again or 3 groups of 16…)

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Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. How about http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slime_mould ? Interesting analogies to some groups I have worked with 🙂

  2. 🙂 hmmmm, fun trying to guess which analogies and which groups…

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