Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Team Zombie

Good day Zombiology Student and thanks for stopping by the ZomBlog.

Today I’m answering a question that came in via the Book of Faces from Jim;

“Hey Doc. I was wondering if Zombies would have organisation skills? I'm not talking about becoming wedding planners or the like but think more along the lines of "The leader" from I Am Legend. Would Zombies be able to lead other zombies with instructions and would those zombies be able to follow them?”
The leader from 'I Am Legend' - more appealing that most political leaders
To begin answering this fascinating question, let’s learn a little something about instinct.

Whilst being a complicated term, instinct essentially refers to the in-built responses seen in animal species. These responses are predictable in a variety of situations for example, many animals will attack anything that threatens their offspring, a cornered animal will either fight, run, or play dead, and most animals demonstrate built in food finding behaviours.

But when it comes to humans, instinct becomes more complicated especially because our brains are capable of overriding instinct, or over expressing it.

Take survival for example. There are many who would argue that the survival instinct is inbuilt into humans. Yet that doesn’t seem to be the case for newborns, young children, and even teenagers - who continually put their survival at risk. You need only look at the newborn who tries to swallow coins or the teenager who drives recklessly to see that in action.

Survival of the Drunkest 

Human instincts are strongly linked to an area of the brain known as the amygdala. This almond shaped structure is one of the oldest parts of the brain from an evolutionary perspective. The amygdala plays a key part in what has been called the "general-purpose defense response control network" and gives rise to whether we will attack or retreat when faced with a specific situation, better known as the “fight or flight” response.

Our research into Zombieism has indicated that the condition could be caused by damage to the human brain including the amygdala. So it is likely that a Zombie would be inclined to act instinctually, certainly more than a uninfected human.

However, this same damage would mean that an individual Zombie lacks the ability to act as a leader and Zombies themselves would be unresponsive to following instruction.

Organizing Zombies would be akin to herding cats. Or directing an episode of Geordie Shore
But this doesn’t mean that Zombies could not appear to have organisational skills, or even act in a collective manner.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that humans seemingly have a hard-wired ability to notice living things. The study's subjects watched images of various outdoor scenes, two at a time. The second image was slightly different from the first. The differences covered a variety of things, from living animals and humans to inanimate objects such as cars. The results showed that humans can identify changes much faster and more accurately if they're living things. Nearly 90 percent of the living changes were spotted compared with 66 percent for inanimate objects. In other words, we're naturally wired to look out for living things. So it is feasible that a Zombie would be better able to spot and therefore target living things like humans. This could explain why they would be drawn to attacking humans and in a sense would appear to be specifically targeting them.   

We can also consider the area of sociology known as collective behaviour. Collective behaviour is when people engage in interactions in response to unstructured, ambiguous or unstable situations. All of which cover Zombies rather well.

Zombieism is highly likely to affect the aforementioned amygdala, leading to heightened aggression. Therefore a horde of Zombies would be defined in this area of sociology as a mob, because they are an emotionally aroused crowd intent on violence or destructive action.  

Rather aptly the coming together of such a mob is described under “Contagion Theory”, whereby people get swept up in the behaviors of others and act like herds of cattle. Yet a large number of Zombies coming together may only appear to be an example of “herd mentality” rather than actually being one. Take the situation shown in the recent Zombie film “World War Z”. Brad Pitt visits Jerusalem where large walls are keeping the undead out. The loud singing of the assembled crowd attracts the Zombies, who pile against the walls, eventually climbing over one and another until they get in.

Zombie piley-on in action
Observing this, one might think that it is a clever tactic on the Zombies’ part. Using teamwork to reach their prey. In actual fact every Zombie is acting on their individual desire to reach the sound. The action of forming of Zombie Tower, akin to an army of ants, is not a purposeful choice but merely a by-product of the mass of Zombies trying to reach the sound.

Now Zombie Ants, that'd be scary. Or a good Pixar film.
So the answer to Jim’s question, would Zombies have organisation skills, is ultimately no, but they might appear to when observed. The second part of his question “Would Zombies be able to lead other zombies with instructions and would those zombies be able to follow them?” is also presently a no. Their brains would have been too badly damaged to leave leadership skills intact and if by chance one could act as a leader the others would not be able to understand or follow their instructions.

Many thanks to Jim for an excellent question, and if you have a question about the undead please get in touch with me in the comments section below, and don’t forget to visit our Book of Faces ( I’m ready, waiting, and willing to answer your questions right here on the ZomBlog.

Keep your eyes to the sky, and your ears to the ground, because you never know when Zombies are around.

Doctor Austin

Doctor Austin ZITS BSz MSz DPep, is a Theoretical Zombiologist and Head of the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies at the University of Glasgow, Scotland UK.

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