Iain Couzin interview by Jane Lee

Posted by on Jun 24 2011 in Media1 comment

Jane Lee, a graduate student in the Science Communication Program at the University of California Santa Cruz, has recently interviewed Iain as part of the 2011 SciCom Interviews series. Hereafter is the introductory paragraph of this interview. The complete interview can be found here.

Wheeling, turning, and diving—flocks of birds and schools of fish perform these acrobatic maneuvers with the precision of fighter jets in formation. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of individuals coordinate their movements in a whirl of motion. Some collectives are so cohesive, people used to think group members employed telepathy to communicate changes of shape or direction.

But as Princeton University biologist Iain Couzin has discovered, the mysterious motivations of animals engaged in collective behaviors are anything but supernatural.

Couzin has found that only a small percentage of a group of animals, like fish or humans, can dictate the movements of the entire group. Couzin’s human studies showed that the placement of "informed leaders"—people who know where they’re going—near the center and periphery of groups increased the speed and accuracy with which the group moved towards a target. His latest work, on the role of uninformed followers, will soon be in press.

Couzin also has shown that different species form groups using similar principles. Perhaps best known for his work on locust swarms, Couzin uses innovative approaches to study collective animal motion—earning him the 2008 Searle Scholar award for outstanding research by a young investigator. Popular Science included him in its annual Brilliant 10 list for 2010.

At the February 2011 American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington, D.C., Couzin broke from a herd of journalists and researchers to speak with SciCom’s Jane Lee about collective animal motion—and how video games help him do his job.


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  1. I have always been amazed at the precision, flexibility and fluidness of animals, particularly birds.  It truly is an amazing thing nature.

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