The Bandwagon Effect

by laurent casimir

The Bandwagon Effect / photo by Laurent Casimir

“The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.”

Nineteen Eighty-four, George Orwell

 

“If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.”

Anatole France

 

It is all about the Bandwagon Effect. This cognitive bias makes us believe in something just because a lot of other people including our family, friends and close ones believe it. People adopt certain behaviors just because everybody else is doing it. Oxford Dictionary of Psychology defines the term as, “the bandwagon effect is characterized by the probability of individual adoption increasing with respect to the proportion who have already done so.” For instance, one could argue that since many people smoke, therefore it must be a good thing, which is clearly a wrong conclusion when you consider the dangers associated with the act of smoking.

The term dates back to 1848 when Dan Rice, a famous clown, used his bandwagon to support a political campaign. During the campaign he encouraged the observers to jump on the bandwagon and support his favorite candidate. His campaign gained success and fame, and resulted in more politicians using this method to the extent that in less than two decades bandwagons had become common in political campaigns. Psychologically, this effect is associated with herd mentality or mob mentality, a term which asserts that people and individuals are influenced greatly by their peers to adopt certain behaviors (like nationalism).

Example are abundant. In advertisements, large groups of people are shown to be extremely satisfied with a certain product or commodity. Trends in fashion are also related to this effect, where people dress the way others do. This behavior can also be clearly seen during asset bubbles, when people rush to buy stocks that are increasing in price, causing the bubble to grow even bigger.

The Bandwagon Effect is a cognitive bias and it influences our decision-making and line of thinking. We may never try to achieve something just because others have tried and failed. We may stop seeking for better solutions if others are sticking to the old solution. This bias is not necessarily and always bad, it has some positive aspects as well. People may be led to adopt useful behaviors if they feel that the majority of people are acting that way.

 

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Further reading

The Bandwagon Bias – The Dangers of Groupthink

Definition of Bandwagon Effect

What Is the Bandwagon Effect? Understanding why people follow trends

Did You Know the Amazing Psychology Behind the Bandwagon Effect?

Bandwagon Effect – Cognitive Biases