Hosted by Sandra Tsing Loh, The Loh Down on Science is a fun way to get your daily dose of science plus a dash of humor in less than two minutes.
Hosted by Sandra Tsing Loh
Airs Weekdays 2:31, 3:31 and 5:49 a.m.

Minnow Electoral College

Win elections by apathy?

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

Meet Princeton biologist Iain Couzin. He studies social animals--like schooling fish--and applies mathematical models to understand their behavior.

Herds are largely predictable: Majority rules! Unless a loudly opinionated minority captures everyone's attention.

Couzin wondered: What if a second minority, of indifferent members, comes along?

To find out, he trained golden shiner minnows--which swim toward light for food.

He taught a majority to swim toward blue light, and a minority to swim toward yellow.

Golden shiners naturally prefer yellow light, so the minority liked their color more--simulating the effect of an opinionated minority.

With both types together, the yellow-light minority convinced everyone to swim their direction.

Then Couzin introduced untrained shiners, with no light preference--and their "Meh, we'll do what most of you want" let the blue-light majority regain control.

It shows apolitical participants can counterbalance a powerful minority, Couzin says.

So politicians: to win? Court the minnow-ity vote!

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