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Assessing synchrony in groups: Are you measuring what you think you are measuring?

By Lucy Asher, Lisa M. Collins

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Behavioural synchrony has been a popular topic of research in group living animals, but has so far lacked a standard approach. Previous studies have varied greatly in the number of behavioural states they have considered and the size of groups investigated. Here, a model of behavioural synchrony was used to test four measures of synchrony commonly used (proportion observations 100% conforming, mean proportion of conforming individuals, Ruckstuhl's group mean and the kappa coefficient). The model used scan samples of the behaviour of laying hens, originally categorised in 10 different behavioural states, as a basis for determining the agents’ probability of performing behaviour states. We systematically varied the group size and the number of behavioural states in the model. The measures calculated from the behaviour of the model agents were compared against a synchrony factor that determined the ‘motivation’ of agents in the model to conform to the behaviour of other agents, for model runs with different group sizes and behavioural categories. The results of the model suggest that, of the measures considered, the kappa coefficient is the most suitable measure of synchrony. The kappa coefficient was the only measure of the four tested to control for expected levels of synchrony. Expected levels of synchrony are sensitive to both the number of behaviour states being examined and the size of the group, therefore observed levels of synchrony should be compared against expected levels to provide meaningful standardised measures.

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 138
Issue 3
Pages 162-169
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2012.02.004
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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Aggregation
  2. Group size
  3. Social behavior
  4. Social Facilitation