When you think of a leader, you may think of an individual who is above all bold. But a new study of fish called sticklebacksshows that shy individuals actually prefer to follow fish that are similarly timid.
Researchers had trios of sticklebacks with known personalities play follow the leader. The fish were placed in a tank that had some plastic plants at one end and some food hidden at the other. In some of the groups, a bold fish and a shy fish acted as leaders, while another shy fish followed. And in other groups, it was a bold fish that did the following. The researchers recorded whether the follower sallied forth more frequently with the fish that was behaviorally similar or the one that was different.
What they found is that shy fish were more likely to emerge from under cover when an equally wary fellow was already out there. Bold follower fish did not seem to care which leader they followed.
Of course, no matter which fish a stickleback chose to stick with, the bold fish did lead more expeditions over the course of the experiment than their more retiring friends. That’s because the bold fish initiated more trips, regardless of who might be tailing them. The findings are in the journal Biology Letters. [Shinnosuke Nakayama et al, Who directs group movement? Leader effort versus follower preference in stickleback fish of different personality]
The researchers write that “when offered a choice of leaders, sticklebacks prefer to follow individuals whose personality matches their own, but bolder individuals may, nevertheless, be able to impose their leadership, even among shy followers, simply through greater effort.” We may soon see if such tendencies also hold true in humans, when Americans decide who they’ll follow in November. Unless, of course, something fishy happens.