In humans, emergence of leaders and followers is key to group performance, but little is known about the whys and hows of leadership. A particularly elusive question entails behavioral plasticity in leadership across social contexts. Addressing this question requires to eliminate social feedback between focal individuals and their partners in experiments that could illuminate the spontaneous emergence of social roles. We investigated plasticity in leader-follower roles in cooperation, where members choose the task toward a shared goal, and coordination, where members adjust their actions in real time based on social responsiveness. Through a computer-programmed virtual partner, we demonstrate adaptive plasticity in leader-follower roles. Humans increased their followership to cooperate when the partner led more in the choice of the task, whereas they showed only weak leadership when the partner followed more. We leveraged the information-theoretic notion of transfer entropy to quantify leadership and followership in coordination from their movements. When exhibiting stronger followership in task cooperation, humans coordinated more with the partner's movement, with greater information being transferred from the partner to humans. The evidence of behavioral plasticity suggests that humans are capable of adapting their leader-follower roles to their social environments, in both cooperation and coordination.
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