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Humans May Not be as Individualistic as Formerly Believed

Using artificial intelligence (AI), a computer scientist from Aston University has shown that humans are not as individual as formerly believed.

Image Credit: Aston University

In the late 1960s, renowned psychologist Stanley Milgram showed that if a person notices a crowd looking in one direction, they are likely to copy their gaze.

However, now, Dr. Ulysses Bernardet in the Computer Science Research Group at Aston University, working with specialists from Germany and Belgium, has discovered proof that human actions follow a two-step process when in a crowd.

Their findings, reported in iScience, illustrate that humans undergo a two-stage process, where they are more likely to first copy a crowd and only then think on their own.

The scientists believe their results will improve the insight into how humans form decisions based on how other humans behave.

To test this concept, the team created an experiment using an immersive virtual reality (VR) set in a replicated city street.

All 160 participants were independently observed as they watched a film within the VR environment developed for the experiment.

As they watched the movie, ten computer-created “spectators” within the VR-simulated street were operated by AI to try to influence the direction of the individual participant’s gaze.

During the experiment, three different sounds, such as an explosion, were played, emanating from either the right or left of the virtual street. Simultaneously, several of the “spectators” looked in a particular direction but not always in the direction of the virtual sound.

The academics calculated a direct and indirect measure of gaze-following.

The direct measure was the proportion of trials wherein participants copied the gaze of the crowd.

The indirect measure took into consideration the reaction speed of participants depending on whether they were taught to look in the same or opposite direction as the audience.

The experiment’s outcomes support the belief that the influence of a crowd is best described by a two-step model.

Dr. Bernardet stated: “Humans demonstrate an initial tendency to follow others — a reflexive, imitative process. But this is followed by a more deliberate, strategic process when a person will decide whether to copy others around them, or not. One way in which groups affect individuals is by steering their gaze.”

This influence is not only felt in the form of social norms but also impacts immediate actions and lies at the heart of group behaviors such as rioting and mass panic. Our model is not only consistent with evidence gained using brain imaging, but also with recent evidence that gaze following is the manifestation of a complex interplay between basic attentional and advanced social processes.

Dr. Ulysses Bernardet, Computer Science Research Group, Aston University

The scientists believe their experiments will pave the way for the better use of AI and VR in behavioral sciences.

Journal Reference

Cracco, E., et al. (2022) Evidence for a two-step model of social group influence. iScience.


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