Collective Information Processing in Human Phase Separation

Bertrand Jayles, Ramon Escobedo, Roberto Pasqua, Christophe Zanon, Adrien Blanchet, Matthieu Roy, Gilles Tredan, Guy Théraulaz, and Clément Sire


Social media filters combined with recommender systems can lead to the emergence of filter bubbles and polarized groups. In addition, segregation processes of human groups in certain social contexts have been shown to share some similarities with phase separation phenomena in physics. Here, we study the impact of information filtering on collective segregation behavior. We report a series of experiments where groups of 22 subjects have to perform a collective segregation task that mimics the tendency of individuals to bond with other similar individuals. More precisely, the participants are each assigned a color (red or blue) unknown to them, and have to regroup with other subjects sharing the same color. To assist them, they are equipped with an artificial sensory device capable of detecting the majority color in their ``environment'' (defined as their k nearest neighbors, unbeknownst to them), for which we control the perception range, k=1,3,5,7,9,11,13. We study the separation dynamics (emergence of unicolor groups) and the properties of the final state, and show that the value of k controls the quality of the segregation, although the subjects are totally unaware of the precise definition of the ``environment''. We also find that there is a perception range k=7 above which the ability of the group to segregate does not improve. We introduce a model that precisely describes the random motion of a group of pedestrians in a confined space, and which faithfully reproduces and allows to interpret the results of the segregation experiments. Finally, we discuss the strong and precise analogy between our experiment and the phase separation of two immiscible materials at very low temperature.

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Published in

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, vol. 375, n. 1807, September 2020