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Group movement decisions in capuchin monkeys: the utility of an experimental study and a mathematical model to explore the relationship between individual and collective behaviours

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In primate groups, collective movements are typically described as processes dependent on leadership mechanisms. However, in some species, decision-making includes negotiations and distributed leadership. These facts suggest that simple underlying processes may explain certain decision mechanisms during collective movements. To study such processes, we have designed experiments on white-faced capuchin monkeys (Cebus capucinus) during which we provoked collective movements involving a binary choice. These experiments enabled us to analyse the spatial decisions of individuals in the group. We found that the underlying process includes anonymous mimetism, which means that each individual may influence all members of the group. To support this result, we created a mathematical model issued from our experimental data. A totally anonymous model does not fit perfectly with our experimental distribution. A more individualised model, which takes into account the specific behaviour of social peripheral individuals, revealed the validity of the mimetism hypothesis. Even though white-faced capuchins have complex cognitive abilities, a coexistence of anonymous and social mechanisms appears to influence their choice of direction during collective movements. The present approach may offer vital insights into the relationships between individual behaviours and their emergent collective acts.

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