When discussing what they’d do if a zombie apocalypse were ever to happen, many concentrate on the make up of their survival team (and indeed I’ve been done the same here on this blog). However, it’s important to recognise that being part of a group can create what’s known as a group paradox.
A group paradox is when what’s best for some individuals in a group is in direct conflict with what’s best for others or for the group as a whole. We can see this in flocks of birds where being in a group is good for dominant individuals, because they benefit from the increased ability to spot predators, but worse for subordinates because they get constantly harassed and have any food they find stolen by the dominant individuals. This is where the paradox comes in: Dominant individuals can only do better if they can persuade subordinate individuals to do something that’s worse for them.
For humans in a zombie apocalypse, you may well find similar group paradoxes operating. For example, fit, healthy and dominant individuals may keep weaker, subordinates around just to act as zombie fodder in case the group gets ambushed. After all, you don’t always have to out-run the zombies in order to escape, sometimes it’s just enough to out-run one of the people you’re with! While they might not realise it, these weaker individuals would probably be better off on their own because they’d be less likely to attract the attention of ravenous flesh-eaters than a large group of survivors and in a group they’ll always risk being the first to get killed when zombies attack.
Yet, you’ll probably find the dominant individuals will work hard to persuade the weaker individuals to stick around and stay in the group. They’ll do this by providing food and help and promises that they’ll be protected. Sadly, they’re not doing this because of what’s best for weaker individuals but because of what’s best for themselves and all the promises will evaporate the moment life gets tough. Only then will the weaker individuals realise that they’ve become the victim of a group paradox; and that’s likely to be rapidly followed by becoming the victim of a group of zombies.
Of course, group paradoxes won’t just operate between dominant and weak individuals but also when members of a group vary in their social connections or levels of relatedness. For example, if you’re the only stranger in a group that’s made up of family members or close friends, you may well find that it’s your butt on the line every tmie the group gets attacked because they’d rather defend those close to them than someone they’ve only just met. This means that they get all the advantages of having an extra pair of eyes to keep watch and hands to help out but you get none of the supposed benefits of increased safety in numbers and you’d probably be much better off on your own.
What does this mean for your chances of survival in a zombie apocalypse? Well, beware the promises made by others and think twice before joining up with any old groups of survivors you happen to bump into. Specifically, make sure you ask yourself one question: Are they’re welcoming me in because it’s in my best interest or because it’s in theirs?
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in the UK, and available as an ebook and in print in the US from the 21st March 2013. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.