Follow the leader: How those in charge make themselves known

Apr 01, 2010

Do you find yourself leading groups, or are you naturally more comfortable following others? Research published today shows that if you want to be a leader you're better off at the edges of a crowd, and not in the middle of the action.

In a series of experiments on crowd behaviour, a research team from the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds also found that successful leaders display more decisive behaviour, spending less time following others and acting more quickly than others in the .

Lead researcher Jolyon Faria, who conducted the study as part of his PhD, said: "It was interesting to find that the most effective leaders remained on the edges of the group and attempted to lead from the front. You'd think leaders in the centre of the group should interact more often with others and therefore be more effective but here this wasn't the case."

Understanding how individuals behave in groups is important in predicting how the whole group behaves en masse, and has implications for the management of our physical environment.

Faria said: "For instance, a better understanding of human crowd behaviour can help us design buildings more effectively for evacuation scenarios. It can also inform strategies for moving large numbers of people, useful for events where large crowds need to be moved as quickly and efficiently as possible by a relatively small number of event staff."

The research team, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), asked groups of eight students to walk around continuously in a specified area and remain as a group without speaking or gesturing to one another.

One person was asked to move towards a target, whilst remaining a member of the group, without letting the others know that he or she was leading them to a target. In a second set of experiments, the students were told to follow "the leader", but not told who the leader was.

In the second set of experiments, it was found that those leaders who remained on the edge of the group were able to move their group towards a target much more quickly than the leaders that chose to remain in the centre.

"We wanted to find out how people decided who to follow" said Faria. "We found that people were able to identify their leader by what position the leader takes, which goes some way to explain how animals in groups - such as birds and fish - can be led by only a small minority, even when don't signal their identity.

"Our findings have illustrated a general principle behind group behaviour. These can also be applied to animal groups, something which could help in the management of the natural environment, as well as in the management of the urban environment."

Explore further: Researchers urge early help for kindergarten students with low self-regulation

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study: Americans Expect Business Leaders to Be White

Jul 15, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Despite decades of progress for minorities in corporate settings, Americans still expect business leaders to be white, and they judge white leaders as more effective than their minority counterparts. This ...

No such thing as a 'born leader,' study in fish finds

Jan 29, 2009

Followers are just as important to good leadership as are the leaders themselves, reveals a new study of stickleback fish published online on January 29th in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication.

Recommended for you

World population likely to peak by 2070

Oct 23, 2014

World population will likely peak at around 9.4 billion around 2070 and then decline to around 9 billion by 2100, according to new population projections from IIASA researchers, published in a new book, World Population and ...

Bullying in schools is still prevalent, national report says

Oct 23, 2014

Despite a dramatic increase in public awareness and anti-bullying legislation nationwide, the prevalence of bullying is still one of the most pressing issues facing our nation's youth, according to a report by researchers ...

Study examines effects of credentialing, personalization

Oct 23, 2014

Chris Gamrat, a doctoral student in learning, design and technology, recently had his study—completed alongside Heather Zimmerman, associate professor of education; Jaclyn Dudek, a doctoral student studying learning, design ...

Data indicate there is no immigration crisis

Oct 22, 2014

Is there an "immigration crisis" on the U.S.-Mexico border? Not according to an examination of historical immigration data, according to a new paper from Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy.

User comments : 0