The bandwagon effect can cause someone to adopt a certain political ideology just because they see that other people in their social circle have adopted the same ideology.
The bandwagon effect is a cognitive bias that causes people to think or act a certain way if they believe that others are doing the same. The bandwagon effect can have a powerful influence on people in many areas of life, so it’s important to understand it in order to account for its influence.
The bandwagon effect is that when people see a comment on social media that received a lot of likes or upvotes, they become more likely to upvote it themself. Or when people see that others are pumping money into the stock market, they become likely to invest too, which can lead to speculative bubbles and market crashes.
There are various other areas of life where the bandwagon effect can influence people. For example:
- The bandwagon effect can influence people’s political choices. For example, voters sometimes provide increased support for a certain political party, simply because that party is doing well in recent polls (a behavior sometimes referred to as bandwagon voting, or the rally-around-the-winner effect or follow-the-winner effect).
- The bandwagon effect can influence consumers’ decisions regarding which products to buy. For example, people often buy the same type of clothes that other people (Influencers, celebrities, or normal people) that they know are wearing, because they want to show that they’re following the latest fashion trends (a behavior sometimes referred to as bandwagon consumption, which is taken advantage of in marketing and advertising).
- The bandwagon effect can influence doctors’ medical decisions. For example, many medical procedures have been widely practiced for long stretches of history, despite a lack of sufficient supporting evidence for their efficacy, because they were considered popular by the medical community.
- The bandwagon effect can influence people’s tendency to litter. For example, people are more likely to litter if they’re in an environment that’s already littered, and less likely to litter if they’re in an environment that’s clean.
- The bandwagon effect can influence organizations’ implementation of new technologies. For example, many businesses in the hospitality market ended up implementing new features on their websites only when it became popular to do so, despite the fact that doing it earlier could have given them a competitive advantage in the market.
The bandwagon effect can also influence people in a more general manner. As one scholar notes:
“The bandwagon effect may also affect people not just with a specific decision, but with regard to the overall culture and work environment. Group attitudes and norms are ‘contagious.’ We are unconsciously influenced by the attitudes and behaviors of those around us. We have all found ourselves in an unpleasant group before, perhaps one of many angry airline passengers waiting for a delayed flight. The tension can be palpable, and we may find our own anxiety rising in response to that of the strangers next to us. Similarly, experiences such as sporting events and performances are enjoyable largely because the excitement of the crowd spreads to us all.”
Finally, the bandwagon effect also plays a central role in various related phenomena. This includes, for example, herd behavior, which is the way individuals in a group think and act in a similar way due to local interactions rather than centralized coordination, groupthink, which is the way certain groups strive for conformity in the thoughts and actions of group members in an uncritical and detrimental manner, as well as other phenomena, such as social contagion, mob mentality, and the false consensus effect.
Note: the term “bandwagon effect” is sometimes used in a specialized sense in specific contexts. For example, in the context of consumption and economics, the bandwagon effect is often used to refer to increased demand for a certain good as a result of seeing others use it.
WHY DO PEOPLE TEND TO FOLLOW THE CROWD?
The bandwagon effect—together with the behaviors that are associated with it, such as following the crowd and following popular trends—can be attributed to several psychological causes.
One such cause is normative social influence, which represents the tendency to conform with others out of a desire to fit in with the crowd and gain approval from others.
Another such cause is informational social influence, which represents the tendency to conform with others out of a desire to be right, under the assumption that others may know something that you don’t, or may understand the situation better than you.
Furthermore, relying on the opinion and actions of others can often serve as a useful heuristic—a mental shortcut that helps people form judgments and make decisions, especially in certain situations, such as when people need to choose quickly or under uncertainty. The use of the bandwagon effect as a heuristic in this manner can either be something that people do intuitively without being aware of, or it can be something that people actively choose to do.
HOW TO AVOID THE BANDWAGON EFFECT?
Since the bandwagon effect is a cognitive bias, you can reduce its impact on you and on others by using appropriate debiasing techniques, which help you think and act in a rational manner. Such techniques include the following:
- Create distance from the bandwagon cues. For example, you can create physical distance from those cues by moving away from people who exert peer pressure before you make a decision, or you can create temporal distance by waiting for a day after talking to people before you make a decision.
- Create optimal conditions for judgment and decision-making. For example, before you make a decision that might be influenced by the bandwagon effect, go somewhere quiet, where you can properly concentrate while thinking about the situation.
- Slow down your reasoning process. This involves taking time to think through the situation in a slow and analytical manner, rather than relying on intuition or hurried reasoning.
- Make your reasoning process explicit. For example, if you’re debating whether to follow a certain course of action that’s associated with bandwagon cues, you can explicitly list its pros and cons, and then clearly verbalize what decision you’ve made and why.
- Hold yourself accountable for your decisions. Remind yourself that ultimately, you’re responsible for any decision that you make, even if that decision is prompted by the bandwagon effect or other types of social influence.
- Examine the bandwagon. For example, try to identify who’s promoting it and why they’re doing so (e.g. a marketer is promoting it because they’re trying to get people to buy their product).
- Recall similar situations in the bandwagon effect played a role. Thinking of similar situations in which you experienced the bandwagon effect can help you assess its current influence on you, identify the potential consequences of that influence, and remember that just because something appears popular, that doesn’t mean that it’s right or that it’s the best course of action.
- Consider alternative options. For example, try to identify one alternative course of action than the one suggested by the bandwagon cues, and consider its potential advantages.
- Create psychological self-distance. When considering how you should act in light of bandwagon cues, you can improve your ability to think rationally by creating psychological self-distance, for example by using self-distancing language and asking yourself “what should you do in this situation?”.
- Visualize the consequences of your decisions. Specifically, consider what the consequences would be if you followed the course of action suggested by the bandwagon effect, in terms of factors such as what would happen and how you would feel.
- Elicit external feedback. For example, you can talk to a trusted individual, who isn’t likely to be influenced by the particular bandwagon effect that you’re worried about, and ask them what they think about your reasoning process.
When reducing the bandwagon effect, it’s often beneficial to first identify the causes of your bandwagon effect, and it’s also important to remember that even though the bandwagon effect can be problematic, bandwagon cues aren’t necessarily wrong, so you should generally assess them properly rather than dismiss them with no consideration.
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