Baboons live in groups with strict hierarchical structures, where a daughter’s rank is inherited from her mother. Yet despite the established social pecking order, a new study from scientists at Princeton University and the University of California, Davis finds that baboons are also capable of making group decisions according to general consensus. 

Rather than allow a single tyrannical leader to determine the group’s trajectory, wild olive baboons in Kenya move according to the desires of the majority of the group, as reported in the journal Science. Using GPS-tracking collars placed on 25 baboons, the researchers were able to analyze the animals’ movements in relation to one another, determining who was initiating.

The baboon group preferred to move in the direction suggested by multiple initiators instead of just one dominant baboon. Neither rank nor sex predicted leadership in terms of group movement. When multiple baboons started to move in different directions, the group usually compromised, splitting the difference between the two. If multiple baboons suggested moving in opposite directions, the subgroup with the most members initiating a movement won. The rest of the group then headed in that subgroup’s preferred direction. 

This, the researchers write, indicates that democratic collective action, in which group members act according to simple rules, is widespread even in hierarchical societies.   

“Our observations suggest that many or all group members can have a voice, even in highly stratified societies,” Margaret Crofoot, an assistant professor of anthropology at UC Davis and a research associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, said in a press release

[h/t: Eurekalert]