Would you jump off a cliff if everyone else was doing it? Well, according to new findings, chances are you just might take the plunge. Herd mentality is a commonly cited and studied human behavior. Its applications are prevalent in a variety of settings, ranging from investor confidence in the stock market to fashion trends.
One of the most well-known studies regarding this theory is the Asch conformity experiments, in which an unsuspecting participant was placed in a room with other “participants” who were actually actors. The group was then asked a series of questions, to which the actors were instructed in advance to provide the same incorrect answers. Though the questions were basic and the actors’ answers were clearly incorrect, the non-actor participants often agreed with the deceptive majority and echoed the same incorrect answers, demonstrating what we now call “herd mentality.” In fact, in over three-quarters of the cases, subjects conformed by responding with the actors’ incorrect answers.
You may be more familiar, however, with the “Candid Camera” elevator experiment, which found that people entering an elevator will generally face the elevator’s back wall if all of the other riders are facing that way as well.
Several years ago, these notions of an apparent mob mentality were tested by a group of researchers at the University of Leeds. The scientists instructed a group of participants to walk around in a large room without talking, yet remaining within a few feet of each other.
Several participants were secretly given special instructions to navigate the room in a snake-like single-file line. In most of the cases, those participants who received special instructions were highly influential in affecting the collective behavior of the group and 95 percent decided to mimic the walking pattern of the specially instructed few.
Although these findings may be viewed as a general lack of self-confidence among participants, biological sciences professor Jens Krause at the University of Leeds sees the practical applications of the findings.
“There are many situations where this information could be used to good effect,” Krause said. “At one extreme, it could be used to inform emergency planning strategies and at the other, it could be useful in organizing pedestrian flow in busy areas.”
In all, though playing Follow the Leader is often second nature, I ask you to consider challenging that instinct.
Months ago, I took this very advice and bought myself those “toe shoes” that resemble foot gloves. My friends subjected me to endless ridicule, even refusing to go out with me in public. Still, I committed to looking half-amphibian and I am stronger for it.
I encourage you all to embrace your individuality, strap on your personal version of “toe shoes” and dance to the beat of your own drum, even if you don’t got the moves like Jagger.