The Psychology of Superorganisms: Collective Decision Making by Insect Societies

Takao Sasaki, Stephen Pratt

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Under the superorganism concept, insect societies are so tightly integrated that they possess features analogous to those of single organisms, including collective cognition. If so, colony function might fruitfully be studied using methods developed to understand individual animals. Here, we review research that uses psychological approaches to understand decision making by colonies. The application of neural models to collective choice shows fundamental similarities between how brains and colonies balance speed/accuracy trade-offs in decision making. Experimental analyses have explored collective rationality, cognitive capacity, and perceptual discrimination at both individual and colony levels. A major theme is the emergence of improved colony-level function from interactions among relatively less capable individuals. However, colonies also encounter performance costs due to their reliance on positive feedback, which generates consensus but can also amplify errors. Collective learning is a nascent field for the further application of psychological methods to colonies. The research strategy reviewed here shows how the superorganism concept can serve as more than an illustrative analogy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)259-275
Number of pages17
JournalAnnual Review of Entomology
StatePublished - Jan 7 2018


  • cognition
  • cognitive overload
  • learning
  • psychophysics
  • rationality
  • self-organization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Insect Science


Dive into the research topics of 'The Psychology of Superorganisms: Collective Decision Making by Insect Societies'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this