The Loh Down On Science

Safety in Numbers

What’s so bad about herd mentality?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

When sheep flock, it’s not to chew the mutton fat on the latest gossip. The long-held “selfish herd” theory says sheep cluster to lessen the chances of being eaten by an unfriendly visitor. Clustering selfishly puts other herd members between themselves and any threat.

The theory has never been proven, however . . . until now.

Researchers at the Royal Veterinary College in London placed GPS-enabled backpacks on sheep and a herding dog.

The GPS data showed that when the dog approached, individual sheep headed towards the middle of the group. Meanwhile, the flock as a whole also moved away from the threat.

Researcher Andrew King explains that this pattern is sort of a continuous “folding in on itself.” Because the middle is safer than the edge, everyone wants to get further and further in.

In short, when danger approaches, it’s time to get the flock out of there! Just sayin’.

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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