Bulletin of Mathematical Biology

, Volume 61, Issue 4, pp 727–757

Dominance orders in animal societies: The self-organization hypothesis revisited

  • Eric Bonabeau
  • Guy Theraulaz
  • Jean-Louis Deneubourg

DOI: 10.1006/bulm.1999.0108

Cite this article as:
Bonabeau, E., Theraulaz, G. & Deneubourg, J. Bull. Math. Biol. (1999) 61: 727. doi:10.1006/bulm.1999.0108


In previous papers (Theraulaz et al., 1995; Bonabeau et al., 1996) we suggested, following Hogeweg and Hesper (1983, 1985), that the formation of dominance orders in animal societies could result from a self-organizing process involving a double reinforcement mechanism: winners reinforce their probability of winning and losers reinforce their probability of losing. This assumption, and subsequent models relying on it, were based on empirical data on primitively eusocial wasps (Polistes dominulus). By reanalysing some of the experimental data that was previously thought to be irrelevant, we show that it is impossible to distinguish this assumption from a competing assumption based on preexisting differences among individuals. We propose experiments to help discriminate between the two assumptions and their corresponding models—the self-organization model and the correlational model. We urge other researchers to be cautious when interpreting their dominance data with the ’self-organization mindset’; in particular, ‘winner and loser effects’, which are often considered to give support to the self-organization assumption, are equally consistent with the correlational assumption.

Copyright information

© Society for Mathematical Biology 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eric Bonabeau
    • 1
  • Guy Theraulaz
    • 2
  • Jean-Louis Deneubourg
    • 3
  1. 1.Santa Fe InstituteSanta FeUSA
  2. 2.Laboratoire d’Ethologie et de Psychologie Animale, CNRS-UMR 5550Université Paul SabatierToulouse CédexFrance
  3. 3.Unit of Theoretical Behavioural Ecology, Service de Chimie-Physique, CP 231Université Libre de BruxellesBrusselsBelgium