Those who have the largest number of friends seem to hold the top position in the structure of social networks, both online and off.
It is often said that the most influential individuals are also the best connected, but the idea has been difficult to test in a real-world setting.
To find it out, Cedric Sueur of the Free University of Brussels (ULB), Belgium, and colleagues looked at how two species of macaque - Macaca tonkeana and Macaca mulatta - reach group decisions, such as when and where to move on.
They found that the leadership hierarchy in both species emerged via a simple rule-of-thumb: individuals followed the lead of their closest affiliates. Consequently, the individual with the most social connections becomes the leader in a self-reinforcing hierarchy.
Following the most socially connected individual has advantages.
"If others in the group happen upon a bit of information then maybe [the socially connected leader] will have better access to that as well," New Scientist quoted co-author Andrew King of the Royal Veterinary College in Hatfield, UK, as saying.
That means the leader will tend to make better-informed decisions.
"From a very simple rule of following your mates, you get these decisions that seem to be best," he said.
King is now experimenting with similar network structures in fish. "We hope that these are general principles that we're uncovering," he stated.
George Sugihara of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, who was not involved in the study, suggested that such structures might indeed be common.
"A lot of the properties we see in food webs [the feeding connections between organisms] can be obtained with really simple assembly rules," he noted.
Sugihara also pointed out the importance of identifying similar patterns of connectivity in human society. (ANI)