"Yes, we are all individuals."

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"Yes, we are all individuals."

September 22, 2016 - 22:22
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Once in a school, fish lose their individual personalities, new research suggests.

Conformity needed to make a group decision was found to be stronger than braver fish leading. That said, despite social coordination, bolder individuals were still more likely to feed.

Connoisseurs of "Monty Python" would know instantly what the headline refers to. For the uniniated, it stems from a skit in the 1979 cult movie, "Life of Brian." The the main character, Brian, tells a crowd of followers to go away and not follow him because "You are all individuals!" to which the crowd robotically replies as with one voice, "Yes, we are all individuals." The skit can be seen (or re-seen) on this link to

Some think a similar mechanism seems to affect fish. Once they aggregate in a school, individuality gets suppressed. At least, that is what scientists from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom have observed.

Suppressed individuality

Working with three-spined sticklebacks, the researchers observed that just like in humans, braver individuals led the groups, and that the fish stuck together when making a risky decision.

Consensus decision-making

They also concluded that the conformity needed to make a group decision is stronger than braver fish leading, meaning overall, that the individual personalities of fish were lost when in a group.

In a University of Bristol press release Dr Christos Ioannou stated, "This is the first time that the suppression of personality in groups has been linked to its underlying cause, which is conformity in group decision making."

Plastic behavior

Ioannou added, "The behavior of the fish seems to be 'plastic' to the social situation—they show consistent individual differences in behavior when tested alone—reflecting personality, but they are also happy to suppress this to be able to stick together with their shoal mates if there are others around."


The researchers also found that testing in a group did not have a lasting effect when individuals were retested alone; it was as if the group tests never happened.

The research, suggests that in social animals, when things get dangerous and animals form cohesive groups, risk-taking tendency when alone may not be a good indicator of the risk an individual actually faces.