Université de Strasbourg

The animal origin of leadership

What makes a good leader? The animal origin of leadership

USIAS Fellow: Odile Petit
Post-doc: Mathilde Valenchon

Every day, humans make decisions about issues of interest for the community they represent. It is often suggested that certain individuals can act as leaders because they have more influence over others. Social and political scientists have long studied how particular individuals influence the opinions and behaviours of others. Understanding how animal species successfully reach an optimal decision could permit a more efficient assessment of how humans reach decisions since it is easier to study animals than humans on that topic. For instance, in the case of activities’ synchronisation that is one of the major challenges of any society, animals depend on their congeners to reach common goals and maintain cohesion. Collective movements are therefore the most obvious manifestation of consensus decisions we can find in animals and in this project, I propose to study collective movements in the domestic horse using both observational and experimental procedures. During my fellowship, I will establish the profiles of leaders by determining the respective weights of individuals and the role of their various attributes and characters in collective decisions. The main innovative aim of this project is to disentangle social influences from the intrinsic (more physiological) attributes of individuals. I hope to predict which individuals can become leaders in any society. Indeed, if we want to understand the functioning of a society and establish how bad or good decisions can emerge, we need to identify which individuals play a key role in collective decisions. Ultimately, studying how consensus decisions are reached in mammals will question us about the uniqueness of human democracy, its origins and the evolutionary continuity of group decision-making.

France 2030