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Princeton fish study

Civic education: for the fishes

In an article that may seem more fitting if it came from the Onion, Princeton University reports that “contrary to the ideal of a completely engaged electorate, individuals who have the least interest in a specific outcome can actually be vital to achieving a democratic consensus. These individuals dilute the influence of powerful minority factions who would otherwise dominate everyone else, according to new research published in the journal Science.”

Now here’s where one gets visions of “America’s Finest [Fake] News Source”: “A Princeton University-based research team reports Dec. 16 that this finding–based on group decision-making experiments on fish […]–can ultimately provide insights into humans’ political behavior.”

The article goes on to explain that the fish involved were golden shiners, which naturally associate the color yellow with food. For the experiment, some fish were trained to associate the color blue with food. By creating different mixes of the two groups and seeing whether the mixed newly-formed ‘schools’ swam toward yellow or blue targets, the researchers were able to find out more about the role of un-informed ‘voters’ on group behavior.

It’s a fascinating if somewhat humorous article, and the discussion of how the results can apply to human behavior is especially interesting. A fun article to begin the week with!