The Bandwagon Effect: Why People Tend to Follow the Crowd

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The Bandwagon Effect: Why People Tend to Follow the Crowd

The bandwagon effect is prevalent in all parts of our culture, whether we are aware of it or not / Photo by rawpixel via 123RF

 

In politics, candidates who have proven to be the most popular have a higher chance of winning, as they tend to get the votes of those who were really not committed to anyone until the last minute. It’s simply the reality that a lot of people tend to follow the majority even though they are not fully aware of who they are voting for or what their platform is. Their usual reasoning is that if more people voted for a specific person, then that politician must be doing something or offering something right.

This is one example of the “bandwagon effect, a socially motivated psychological phenomenon that compels an individual to follow with the majority regardless of their own conviction.

The bandwagon effect is prevalent in all parts of our culture, whether we are aware of it or not. For instance, as more people start listening to a song or band, they gain more popularity and others will start listening to them as well. The phenomenon also influences the decision of consumers on which products to buy. Usually, people will buy the same type of clothes that other people are wearing because they want to feel that they are following the latest fashion trends.

The phenomenon can influence an individual to set aside who they are and what they believe in for the simple reason that they don’t want to be left out. 

 

Origins of the Bandwagon Effect

In the bandwagon effect, people embrace the popularity of ideas, beliefs, and fads more than their own perspectives. It is seen in politics, fashion, advertising, social, sports, and many more. The phenomenon dates back more than 100 years to the 1848 US presidential election. According to Investopedia, an American website based in New York City that focuses on investing and financial education along with reviews, ratings, and comparisons of various financial products, it all started when an entertainer named Dan Rice campaigned for presidential candidate Zachary Taylor. 

In Taylor’s campaign events, Rice would encourage the crowd to “jump on the bandwagon” and support Taylor. Rice was referring to a literal wagon that was carrying a band and accompanying Taylor’s campaign sorties to attract attention. The campaign became successful and Taylor was elected president. This encouraged later politicians to employ bandwagons in their campaigns, hoping to gain a similar result. Eventually, the term “bandwagon effect” became a derogatory term that describes people wanting to be part of a majority even if it’s against their beliefs or principles. 

However, a 2015 study conducted by researchers at the University of Munich discovered that the bandwagon effect is more than what we think it is. The researchers gave a fake history of the candidates for a mayoral election in a small German town. The 765 participants were split into three groups. The first group was shown a poll where one candidate was losing by a large margin while the second was shown that he was winning by a lot. The third group wasn’t given any poll. The findings of the study showed that the large margins have affected the participants’ votes. They also tended to consider a candidate as more competent if they thought the candidate was winning. 

People tend to “hop on the bandwagon” as more people adopt a particular fad or trend / Photo by serezniy via 123RF

 

The bandwagon effect has also affected the dotcom bubble in the late 1990s. During this era, there was a rapid rise in the US technology stock equity valuations driven by investments in internet-based companies. A lot of tech startups emerged that have no products or services and no viable business plans to bring to market. However, they still managed to attract millions of investment dollars in large part due to the bandwagon effect, as people thought those companies should be good as well because they also dealt in technology.

 

Why are People Influenced by the Bandwagon Effect?

Even today, a lot of people are still easily carried away by a person’s popularity. There are several factors that influence them to join the bandwagon effect. For instance, people tend to “hop on the bandwagon” as more people adopt a particular fad or trend. This is called groupthink. According to an article by Verywell Mind, a trusted and compassionate online resource that provides guidance to improve people’s mental health and balance, this causes a tremendous pressure for us to conform.

Another factor is people’s desire to be right. Most of the time, people would rely on others’ information about what is right and acceptable. They are left with the impression that if everyone else is doing it, then it must be the right thing to do. Also, we don’t want to be excluded. Thus, going along with what the rest of the group is doing is a way to make sure that they are included and accepted. The need to belong puts pressure on us to conform to the norms and attitudes of the majority. 

 

How to Avoid Falling for the Bandwagon Effect

Although the bandwagon effect is very powerful, it is possible that it won’t last long. People jump on the bandwagon quickly, but they also jump off it just as fast. According to Effectiviology, a website dedicated to learning about science and philosophy you can use, people can use various de-biasing techniques to reduce the impact of the bandwagon effect on us.

For instance, consider alternative options. Don’t rely on something that most people believe in. Instead, think about the options that you can choose beyond the one that is adopted by the majority. Also, help yourself to make a decision all by yourself. This helps you to think more clearly. It is also helpful to slow down your reasoning process. This will improve your ability to conduct a conscious reasoning process and avoid the initial tendency to imitate others.

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