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Collective incentives reduce over-exploitation of social information in unconstrained human groups


Wu,  CM       
Institutional Guests, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;

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Deffner, D., Mezey, D., Kahl, B., Schakowski, A., Romanczuk, P., Wu, C., et al. (submitted). Collective incentives reduce over-exploitation of social information in unconstrained human groups.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000D-A56B-1
Collective dynamics emerge from countless individual decisions. Yet, we poorly understand the cognitive processes governing dynamically-interacting individuals in human collectives under realistic conditions. We present a naturalistic immersive-reality experiment where groups of participants searched for rewards in different environments, studying how individuals weigh personal and social information and how this shapes individual and collective outcomes. Capturing high-resolution visual-spatial data, behavioral analyses revealed individual-level gains -but group-level losses- of high social information use and spatial proximity in environments with concentrated (vs. distributed) resources. Incentivizing participants at the group (vs. individual) level facilitated adaptation to concentrated environments, buffering excessive scrounging. To infer discrete choices from unconstrained interactions and uncover the underlying decision mechanisms, we developed an unsupervised Social Hidden Markov Decision model. Computational results showed that participants were more sensitive to social information in concentrated environments frequently switching to a `social relocation' state where they approach successful group members. Group-level incentives reduced participants' overall responsiveness to social information and promoted higher selectivity over time. Finally, mapping group-level spatio-temporal dynamics through time-lagged regressions revealed a collective exploration-exploitation trade-off across different timescales. Our study unravels the processes linking individual-level strategies to emerging collective dynamics, and provides new tools to investigate decision-making in freely-interacting collectives.