How do groups of animals make collective decisions? Last week, we learned that bees reach consensus by headbutting those with opposing views. But in many other species, the decision-making process is a bit more democratic. In cases where social animals are unrelated and have different self-interests (such as our own), contrasting opinions are common. But it can be just as common for individuals to either be uninformed about the options, or simply not care much about the decision.
Researchers have long wondered how the dynamics of decision-making work in these cases. Some evidence suggests that those who are ignorant or naïve are subject to manipulation by a loud, opinionated minority. If this is true, uninformed individuals are detrimental to democratic decision-making, since they can turn over power to a minority. However, a new study in this week's Science shows that, under certain conditions, uninformed individuals actually shift the balance toward the majority, enabling a democratic process where the majority rules.