Inference of interaction rules of animals moving in groups usually relies on an analysis of large scale system behaviour. Models are tuned through repeated simulation until they match the observed behaviour. More recent work has used the fine scale motions of animals to validate and fit the rules of interaction of animals in groups. Here, we use a Bayesian methodology to compare a variety of models to the collective motion of glass prawns (Paratya australiensis). We show that these exhibit a stereotypical ‘phase transition’, whereby an increase in density leads to the onset of collective motion in one direction. We fit models to this data, which range from: a mean-field model where all prawns interact globally; to a spatial Markovian model where prawns are self-propelled particles influenced only by the current positions and directions of their neighbours; up to non-Markovian models where prawns have ‘memory’ of previous interactions, integrating their experiences over time when deciding to change behaviour. We show that the mean-field model fits the large scale behaviour of the system, but does not capture the observed locality of interactions. Traditional self-propelled particle models fail to capture the fine scale dynamics of the system. The most sophisticated model, the non-Markovian model, provides a good match to the data at both the fine scale and in terms of reproducing global dynamics, while maintaining a biologically plausible perceptual range. We conclude that prawns’ movements are influenced by not just the current direction of nearby conspecifics, but also those encountered in the recent past. Given the simplicity of prawns as a study system our research suggests that self-propelled particle models of collective motion should, if they are to be realistic at multiple biological scales, include memory of previous interactions and other non-Markovian effects.