The Loh Down On Science

Can you train followers to be leaders?

Is there such a thing as a born leader?

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

Most group animals do “group things.”  Like: finding food!  Wolves hunt in packs.  Fish forage in schools.  And there’s usually a bold leader.

Zoology researchers at Britain’s Cambridge University were curious.  Are these leaders made?  Or born?  They theorized that leaders are probably born bold.  And if so, they probably can’t be turned into followers.  And followers?  Probably can’t become leaders.

To test this, the researchers used a common foraging fish, found in Cambridge’s waterways. The three-spined stickleback.  They’re known for having both shy and born individuals.

In tanks, the researchers separated stickleback leaders from followers. Then using food treats, they tried to train leaders to instead follow, and followers to lead.

What happened?  The opposite of what they expected.  Motivated by treats, stickleback leaders gladly became followers.  But followers?  Struggled to lead.

The researchers say the results still prove their point.  Sticklebacks not born with leadership ability can’t develop it later.

No matter how many Donald Trump seminars they attend!  Which always did seem, er, rather fishy!  Ah well.

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


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