Socio-economy & New Tech


    Terrestrial Biodiversity

Post-Doctoral Fellowships

United Kingdom

Leading by example : an evolutionary perspective on group-decision making

The U.S.A. has had 28 presidential elections since 1900. In 75% of these elections the taller man has won. With such a high percentage, it appears to be beyond coincidence. This is what Dr King calls an evolutionary hangover. Having a tendency to follow the taller man made sense when humanity was living on the African savannah and hunting buffaloes and solving intertribal conflicts. Today, this attitude to follow the taller man is still anchored in our genes, which might go some way to providing a biological explanation for this intriguing fact.
Complex societies are also observable in non-human animals. As an evolutionary biologist, Dr King is trying to identify the mechanisms that underlie -social decisions affecting group-living animals such as risk-taking or leader emergence and to compare them with human behavior.
During his PhD, Dr King studied wild baboons in Namibia and how their leader is “chosen.” For baboons, they don’t choose the taller baboon, but instead their leader emerges as a result of the way the group is structured. It turns out that the baboon with the most developed social network and who is therefore the most influential emerges as the leader.
Dr King does not only study primates. To gain a deeper understanding of the roots of leadership behavior and sociality, he studied groups of fish and found that the groups of individuals that were composed with the “right balance” of fish (with respect to their temperament or personality) were more likely to take risky decisions than groups that are randomly composed. It seems that this diversity is a crucial component to the group’s survival.
Since non-human group-living animals’ behavior is not as complicated as our own, it allows Dr King to make a parallel with our own behavior and to explain some of the drivers. Ultimately, his work identifies some of the core principles that guide social beha-vior that can provide answers to some of the more puzzling management issues we encounter, and perhaps most importantly, how capable we are to adapt to change.
My research focuses on using a question-oriented approach to address a range of issues in behavioural and evolutionary ecology, especially concerning group-living animals (including humans). Blending theoretical modelling and field observations and experiments, I examine how costs and benefits shape individual decisions, and how these behaviours relate to the structure and functioning of groups and populations (or societies in the case of humans).

Why our leaders need a monkey suit


  • (1) King, A. J., Narraway, C., Hodgson, L., Weatherill, A., Sommer, V. & Sumner, S. (2011) Performance of human groups in social foraging: the role of communication in consensus decision-making. Biology Letters 7: 237-240.
  • (2) Katsikopoulos, K. & King, A. J. (2010) Swarm intelligence in animal groups: When can a collective out-perform an expert? PLoS ONE 5: e15505
  • (3) King, A. J. (2010) Follow me! I'm a leader if you do; I'm a failed initiator if you don't? Behavioural Processes. 84: 671-674.
  • (4) King, A. J. & Cowlishaw, G. (2009a) Leaders, followers and group decision-making. Communicative & Integrative Biology 2: 147-150.
  • (5) King, A. J. & Cowlishaw, G. (2009b) All together now: behavioural synchrony in baboons. Animal Behaviour 78: 1381-1387

And the paper above received the following media coverage:

Radio Interviews

Good Evening Wales BBC Radio Wales, October 2009.
The World Today BBC World Service, October 2009.
The Today Programme BBC Radio 4, October 2009.

Magazine articles
The Economist

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Institute of Zoology


United Kingdom