The Secret of Creating Your Reality (2015)
Chapter 1: Herd Mentality
Herd mentality, also known as mob mentality, is the phenomenon in which people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain actions, behaviors or trends. We may like to believe in our strong conviction to stand our ground and avoid being wavered by anyone else’s views, but one would be surprised to see how easily that façade peels away in the face of certain situations. People tend to follow the behavioral patterns of others, sometimes without even realizing it. In extreme cases, when people get together, they end up doing bizarre and nonsensical things that they would usually never even dream of doing; these things could turn violent or dangerous, and may be unlike the general disposition of the people in question. This phenomenon is referred to as herd mentality. After indulging in herd mentality, one is often left pondering, “What on earth was I thinking?”
Herd mentality is usually seen as a negative phenomenon, as can be corroborated by its alternative phrase: "mob mentality. A mob is typically associated with mob lynches, mob riots, mob rallies and mob violence, which is what the “mob mentality” usually results in. There have been many incidents in our ancient and recent history where mob mentality led to widespread pillages and plunders in various communities. Herd mentality has the potential to infuse damage of epic proportions to people, as well as society as a whole. Examples of mass suicides, stadium trampling, Klu Klux Klan lynching, and widespread rioting are all testament to mob mentality.
The behavior exhibited via herd mentality is often studied by social psychologists; they also refer to it as “crowd hysteria.” The studies pertaining to herd mentality are used to analyze the scenarios that are created from issues during public excavations to large gatherings that turn awry and brutal.
History of Herd Mentality
The origins of herd mentality can be traced all the way back to when people tended to create tribes, migrated in groups, and formed communities. In the 19th century, the idea was introduced by two French social psychologists, who were called Gabriel Tarde and Gustave Le Bon. They were both hailed as the pioneers of crowd psychology; however, it was not until quite later when their ideas gained credence. Sigmund Freud also took up this concept and described it as a process whereby people behaved differently than they would individually. It has also been described as the alignment of multiple ways into one, where everyone then thinks in a similar fashion because of the marring of individual differences and how insignificant they suddenly seem in a large group.
Wilfred Trotter (1872-1939), a famous British neurosurgeon, wrote about herd mentality in his famous work titled: Herd Instincts in Peace and War. Similarly, Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929), an American economist and sociologist, wrote a renowned book called the Theory of the Leisure Class. In this book, he discussed in great detail how the working class members of society attempt to emulate the elite class via their purchasing behavior. In recent times, many fields of science, such as finance, economics and marketing, make use of this phenomenon in order to anticipate the mechanics of rational and illogical behavior of consumers.
Prominent Examples in History of Herd Mentality
History is peppered with some accurate examples of herd mentality and its devastating effects onto property, people, and the community as a whole. Some notable examples are:
Salem Witch Trials
This is one of the oldest examples in the whole history of herd mentality. The Salem Witch Trials are part of a notorious incident that dates back to 1692. This incident accurately depicts what a deadly collusion of religious extremism and mobs can do to a society. The events of this time were so deadly and brutal that even after 320 years have gone by, people still refer back to the terrible circumstances and tortured victims. The phrase “witch hunt” was coined as a reference to the Salem Witch Trials, and are used to imply a futile or unjust search.
The incident itself involved some women in the town of Salem, who suddenly began acting bizarrely and had uncontrollable fits and contortions. They blamed witches for this inexplicable behavior and raised accusatory fingers at some specific women in Salem who were not even remotely connected to the disturbed women. When doctors confirmed the diagnosis as being possessed by witches, the religious and superstitious town went into overdrive with passionate rage. Salem officials began arresting suspected witches by using flimsy pieces of evidence. Scores of these accused women were murdered brutally, either by being burned at the stake or crushed under stones.
Stock Market Movements
This may be a more subtle example of herd mentality, but is still one that drives finance analysts and stock market experts to study the predicted movements of the stocks. What drives herd mentality, and results in people acting in a certain common way, is fear and uncertainty. In simple terms, when people believe the economy is performing well, the stock prices rise, and when they fear the economy will take a downturn (via rumors, word of mouth and the media), that is when they stop purchasing stocks. This results in the economy experiencing a downturn, as expected; this phenomenon is referred to as a self-fulfilling prophecy. To make matters more complex, people rely upon experts and professionals to guide them or to give them some cues as to what direction the stock market would take. By the time the herd jumps on the bandwagon, the advantage is lost and there are no more gains to be had. Hence, the herd is in a self-perpetuated bubble of vulnerability as it fruitlessly attempts to reach the pinnacle while letting other people cloud their perceptions.
Stampedes at Sporting Events
Large sporting events are a breeding ground for herd mentality. Typically, people become wrought with emotion, passion and determination, which are provoked when rooting for a favorite side at any major sporting event. This can trigger a herd mentality show of action. Within large crowds, spectators become more riled up and vivacious as they cheer their teams in a boorish manner, which they normally would not do if alone. This is the result of taking in the collective moods of the majority of the audience and replicating that same behavior in order to blend in.
For example, in the Accra Sports Stadium, Accra, there was a huge commotion as a crowd started acting violently after the league match ended between Accra Hearts and Asante Kotoko. The chaotic stampeding got so out of hand that the police had to intervene and use tear gas to dispense the rowdy crowd. The resulting damage and commotion led to a tragic death of 127 people who were mercilessly crushed. This was the worst recorded stampede incident in the whole of Africa.
Why Do People Indulge in Herd Mentality?
In order to set yourself apart from the very imminent phenomenon of herd mentality, one needs to answer the following questions:
Do you regard yourself to be separate from a crowd?
Do you feel proud and confident when you stand apart from a crowd?
Is your decision-making process influenced only by your own views, or do you also factor other people’s views into your decision?
Do you care a lot about what is in fashion or not?
Do you consider yourself so morally strong that your moral compass can never waver in a large group of people?
Do you strongly believe that you would never indulge in herd mentality?
Research suggests that our brains are wired in such a way that we would tend to conform to what the crowd or large group is doing or saying when faced with such a situation. However, one can wheedle their way out of such a situation by simply saying no, which is the first step to maintaining one’s own stance. We all have taken part in herd mentality in small ways or the other. For instance, have you ever been to a stadium where there is highly charged football match going on, and you observe a handful of fans cheering wildly? Gradually, more people will join them in their cheering. Soon enough, the majority is doing the same, and you stand there uncomfortably, not knowing exactly how to react. Eventually, you also begin to cheer and clap like the rest of them, so that you do not look or feel like the odd one out. This also makes you feel like you’re blending in with the crowd. This sort of behavior truly reflects the age-old motto: “if you can’t beat them, join them.”
Fashion trends and statements are another very common example of how easily people are sucked into herd mentality. It is a common sight to see teenagers wear baggy pants with their jeans hanging dangerously low, some with their buttocks half-showing. There was a time when this so-called fashion trend was considered stylish and anyone not following it was considered ancient and outdated. For this reason, everyone followed it as much as they could at the risk of becoming a social outcast or committing a fashion faux pas. Fashion trends change at lightning speed and keeping up with all of them is being part of the phenomenon of herd mentality.
A recent study conducted at the Basel University, Switzerland, by Vasil Klucharev made use of an MRI machine to observe and scan the brain patterns of an individual as they were asked to rate the attractiveness of general faces. Once the results were in, the participants were informed that their answers did not corroborate with the “average rating” of each face, and they were scanned again. This time, an “error signal” was triggered in the brain; the majority of the people altered their opinions, illustrating that brains may be wired to conform to “the herd.”
Another study to examine herd mentality was conducted by Chris Frith and Daniel Campbell-Meiklejohn in Aarhus University, Denmark. The reward centers of the brain would be activated if a particular pop song was rated the same by an expert as well. Hence, this implies that shared views are seen as a power or a craze that people crave.
There are scores of examples of how herd mentality is used in various walks of life. For example, at military academies, the recruits are taught to be conformists and incline towards herd mentality to strive for their cause. According to Tamara Avant, the Program Director of Psychology at the South University in Savannah, people tend to lose their self-awareness when they are surrounded by a large crowd; they lose their individuality. It becomes easier for them to be vulnerable and be swept up in the general atmosphere and wave of emotion of the large crowd of which they are a part. The larger this crowd, the more their self-awareness is foregone.
Causes of Herd Mentality
Even though herd mentality seems like such an irrational and nonsensical notion, and people would strongly claim that they would never indulge in such behavior, we are actually wired to act as conformists.
Some triggers and reasons behind herd mentality are as follows:
De-individuation: This is what was discussed in the aforementioned paragraph; in a large crowd, people lose control of their self-awareness.
Emotions: In a group, it is easier for people to feel more vulnerable. The wave of emotion that overtakes the entire group is what affects the individual as well, which is why he or she acts like the surrounding people.
Anonymity: Within a large group, there is a sense of security and anonymity. This implies that whatever you do, it will rarely be seen to be linked exclusively to you by others in the group. Hence, the person easily lets go of their sense of responsibility.
Identity: It is very easy for people to lose their individual sense of identity when part of a large group of people.
Delegation of responsibility: When people start acting unreasonably in a large group, it is not seen as irrational as it would have seemed if done individually. If a crowd begins to behave violently, it would not involve individual blame and it would seem like a situation of “group responsibility.”
Fear: Research has shown that the brain section that is responsible for the emotion of fear is called the amygdala, and it is what causes the response of fear. This response center goes into overdrive and causes an adrenaline rush when fear kicks in. Similarly, the fear of uncertainty, anticipation, and standing out can cause the person to act in ways that they would never imagine were possible.
Many researchers claim that herd mentality is a response to fear and unpredictability. Scientists have further discovered that the herd mentality that arises from fear is far more powerful, as compared to the herd mentality that stems from greed.
Firstly, people most likely to become swept into herd mentality are adolescents who have had a troubled past and who already feel helpless and hopeless. Those with no sense of self-awareness and identity are the most vulnerable to give in to herd mentality. They are likely do this simply because they feel like they finally belong somewhere and the group they spend time with cares about them.
Secondly, young children who are disillusioned, impressionable and breakable in their beliefs are also likely to be victims of herd mentality. Thirdly, people who are in dire situations with regards to financial woes and health issues are also more likely to indulge in herd mentality in desperate times. Fourthly, children who already have weak ties or bonds with their family members and are generally antisocial are more likely to become victims of herd mentality.
Ways to Evade Herd Mentality
We all can relate to the concept of herd mentality, as we all have encountered a situation where we conformed to the public opinion. This kind of behavior is likened to animalistic behavior, for instance, how ants form a large crowd when there is a tasty morsel on the ground, how bees hover over their hive, and how birds flock at once when migrating. Hence, there are strong parallels between animal behavior and human group behavior. The phenomenon of herd mentality is a very useful tool that is used by stockbrokers, financial analysts, sales professionals and retailers. They use it to decipher consumer behavior and incline an individual to purchase certain goods or services, just because everyone else is doing it.
There are ways to avoid herd mentality in a way that does you no harm and helps you maintain your sense of identity:
Take time to consider a particular decision: This basically implies that you need to stop being on a constant autopilot where you are always on the go and do not have time to even consider your options, views and choices. Prior to taking a particular decision, such as when buying a product, conduct your own research and give less emphasis to the opinions of others. Once you make this a habit, you will become prone to making more conscious decisions.
Make an effort to form your own individual opinions: Relegating to the opinion of others without even taking the time to consider your own can be very damaging. Educate yourself on making the rational and well-informed choice or decision on your own, and then stick to it. Don’t sway your opinion to align with another individual’s views.
Creativity is key to enforcing your own self-identity: Being creative implies that you are not constantly running off to others for thoughts on how to do a certain task. You are imaginative enough to make your own logical decisions and trust your own opinions.
Have reachable goals in life: Goals provide life with much needed meaning, ambition and direction. If a person has realistic life goals then it would take much more than a herd to alter their mindset. Instead of the herd directing you where to go mindlessly, it will be your goals, desires, needs and ideas.
Say no when required: Never hesitate to say no when a situation demands it. This is particularly true when it comes to dealing with a crowd mentality in which everyone is telling you to do one thing that you do not want to do. Remember that it is okay to stand out and not do what everyone else is doing. Do not be afraid to refuse.
Do not be skeptical of standing out: Numerous studies have shown that those who lack social acceptance are more likely to follow a herd and go along with whatever the crowd’s purpose is. This advice is not only to avoid a herd mentality but also to become successful. Successful people do not hide behind crowds; they dare to be different and stick out of the crowd, which is what sets them apart from the masses. It is very important for a person’s self-esteem, self-confidence and personal identity to not allow anyone else to make you feel bad about where you came from, or to let them dictate how you should feel, think and express.
Take time to evaluate options: When you are in a hurry, you are more likely to get pressurized and let others decide for you. Do not let that happen. Give yourself the time and space to make reasonable and thoughtful decisions.