Swarms & contagion: a new study explores relations between spread of information and collective behaviors among mobile agents


Populations  of mobile agents, such as animal groups, robot swarms, or crowds of  people, exhibit fascinating collective behaviors as a result of the  spread of information, like a potential threat or opportunity. Such information diffusion across the population can be seen as a dynamics of  social contagion, in which agents copy the behavior of their neighbors.  Examples comprise the murmuration of starling flocks or the coherent motion of fish schools avoiding a predator.

In a new paper published in Physical Review Research, an international team of scientists including ISI Foundation researcher Michele Starnini proposes a minimal model to study how information diffusion affects the motion of the agents, and vice-versa, how their spatio-temporal organization affects the social contagion process.

Researchers show that such dynamical feedback between information spreading and  motility of agents triggers the formation of coherently moving structures, or swarms, which in turn are responsible for enhancing social contagion across the population. We call this state, in which  agents move collectively by sharing information about their surroundings, a flocking-enhanced contagion regime.

"Flocking-enhanced social contagion", Demian Levis, Albert Diaz-Guilera, Ignacio Pagonabarraga, Michele  Starnini. Physical Review Research, 1th September 2020. Link