Emergent processes in group behavior

Robert L. Goldstone, Michael E. Roberts, Todd M. Gureckis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Just as neurons interconnect in networks that create structured thoughts beyond the ken of any individual neuron, so people spontaneously organize themselves into groups to create emergent organizations that no individual may intend, comprehend, or even perceive. Recent technological advances have provided us with unprecedented opportunities for conducting controlled laboratory experiments on human collective behavior. We describe two experimental paradigms in which we attempt to build predictive bridges between the beliefs, goals, and cognitive capacities of individuals and patterns of behavior at the group level, showing how the members of a group dynamically allocate themselves to resources and how innovations diffuse through a social network. Agent-based computational models have provided useful explanatory and predictive accounts. Together, the models and experiments point to tradeoffs between exploration and exploitation - that is, compromises between individuals using their own innovations and using innovations obtained from their peers - and the emergence of group-level organizations such as population waves, bandwagon effects, and spontaneous specialization. ©

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10-15
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Directions in Psychological Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2008


  • Collective behavior
  • Competition
  • Foraging
  • Group behavior
  • Imitation
  • Social networks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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