A small group of house-hunting ants congregate near the entrance to their nest.

A small group of house-hunting ants congregate near the entrance to their nest.

Photo by: Takao Sasaki and James S. Waters

We are getting more and more overloaded with information and it makes our decision-making process very difficult and often times incorrect. Scientists at Arizona State University conducted a study examining what biological mechanisms that exist in nature we may learn from. In this study they discovered that ants do have a strategy to handle “information overload.”

ASU News reports that Stephen Pratt, an associate professor in ASU, and Takao Sasaki, a graduate student in Pratt’s lab, studied ants behavior in “information overload” conditions and concluded that the key to preventing cognitive overload could be found in collective decision-making, rather than in multi-tasking.

he scientists created artificial nests and the ants needed to choose one considering multiple parameters, like water conditions, size of a nest, humidity and many others. Choice of 8 nests was given to both, individual ants and their colony. The study showed that the individual ants were able to make a correct choice when presented with only two options but often failed with when there were more then two. However, the colony always made an optimal choice regardless of the number of options.

Pratt said, “By sharing the burden of decision-making, colonies avoid the mistakes that a solitary animal makes when taking on too much information. What’s great about these ants is that we can see exactly how they do this, by making sure that no ant has to process more information than it is able to.”

“People usually think of ants as sort of stupid, that they can’t really compare options, or that they don’t have good cognition,” added Sasaki. “But actually, individual ants can compare options, and that’s why they, too, experience cognitive overload – a well-documented phenomenon in human beings.”

The scientists believe that there are other problems ants face that we might be able to learn from and further research will provide additional insights into how to handle information excess in society. This research will have applications in collective intelligence that is just another name for Integral Thinking!