Herd those sheep: emergent multiagent coordination and behavioral-mode switching

Patrick Nalepka, Rachel W. Kallen, Anthony Chemero, Elliot Saltzman, Michael J. Richardson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


Effectively coordinating one’s behaviors with those of others is essential for successful multiagent activity. In recent years, increased attention has been given to understanding the dynamical principles that underlie such coordination because of a growing interest in behavioral synchrony and complex-systems phenomena. Here, we examined the behavioral dynamics of a novel, multiagent shepherding task, in which pairs of individuals had to corral small herds of virtual sheep in the center of a virtual game field. Initially, all pairs adopted a complementary, search-and-recover mode of behavioral coordination, in which both members corralled sheep predominantly on their own sides of the field. Over the course of game play, however, a significant number of pairs spontaneously discovered a more effective mode of behavior: coupled oscillatory containment, in which both members synchronously oscillated around the sheep. Analysis and modeling revealed that both modes were defined by the task’s underlying dynamics and, moreover, reflected context-specific realizations of the lawful dynamics that define functional shepherding behavior more generally.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)630-650
Number of pages21
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • multiagent systems
  • social coordination
  • joint action
  • complex systems
  • task dynamics
  • dynamical modeling
  • open data


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