An interesting question that scientists and philosophers have studied for hundreds of years is how large groups come together to make a common decision. This process is called social choice. The main aspect about social choice that has been addressed is how multiple choices of individuals in a group become one preference for the entire group. The main groups that have been studied in regard to social choice are human groups, and how we have developed a voting system to choose one outcome over many other alternatives. Humans are not the only group that participates in social choice. This also occurs in different animal groups, but has not been studied as long as social choice in human groups. In particular, the way honey bees choose their nest sites is an interesting representation of social choice.
Honey bees look for a new nest site when a colony grows too large for their present nest. During this process, some of the colony stays, and the others leave to establish a new colony. Half of the workers in the colony along with the mother queen bee leave the nest to find a new one, while the rest of the workers and one of the daughter queen bees remains in the nest to continue the colony. The bees leave the nest in a swarm, and group at a nearby site, where some bees then go their separate ways and search for a new nest site. This process was originally studied by Martin Lindeur (1955).
In his studies, Lindeur found that about a hundred scout bees leave the swarm to find a satisfactory nest site. He also discovered that when a scout has found a possible site, it will come back to the swarm and communicate the location of the site to other scouts. The honey bee does this by perf...
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...ing because of something internal not something external, Seeley concluded that bees seem to posses a rule about promoting nest sites. The “rule” is that when the bees return to the current nest and dance for a site, the dance’s strength (qualified by the amount of waggle runs) directly reflects the quality of the site. Therefore, the dances for poorer sites will end quickly and support will be given to the dance that lasts the longest.
In order to see the relevance of this study it is important to remember what Seeley was trying to accomplish. Seeley wanted to uncover the social mechanisms of bees and show that their skills are very versatile. He did just that in showing how bees come to a consensus, and pointing out that bees know to change their dancing patterns appropriately when looking for different things, such as food or a nesting site.
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