Have you ever found yourself just milling about in the crowd, on your way to chow or gym or other programs with your mind wandering? Sometimes I think to myself, “Day in and day out, I just feel like we are a bunch of cattle being steered to our next activity.” Have you ever wondered how much the influences and activities of others bear on you? Are your actions and choices the result of what your buddies are doing? Human beings, whether we want to admit it or not, exhibit much evidence of herd behavior. Moo! Stanley Milgram was the social psychologist best known for experimentation with authority, resulting in average Americans delivering fatal shocks to strangers, because the boss said to (It wasn’t real, but they thought it was). Nazi Germany anyone? Anyway, I found another of his lesser-known experiments fairly interesting. In his paper, Notes on the Drawing Power of Crowds of Different Size,” he conducts an experiment to see if certain herd mentalities can be observed in humans. On a busy Manhattan sidewalk, he enacts a “stimulus crowd” of his own people, at different times, varying in size form one to fifteen. When they reach a certain spot, they all stop on a dime and look up at the same sixth floor window.
In this chart, we have an elegant documentation of the essence of herd behavior. As you can see, the more people we have exhibiting a behavior, the more random onlookers conform to the same activity. Economists call this the “bandwagon effect.” Curiously, the reference of “bandwagon” comes from late nineteenth century political campaigning. Candidates would go from town to town with a wagon full of music and entertainment, in an effort to woo voters. Then, less popular politicians would clamor to be seen aboard the bandwagon of a popular candidate from another race. This effect is the instinctive tendency we as humans have, to rely on the actions of others when choosing our own course of action. Milgram wanted to observe how this effect pertained to the average unsuspecting passersby It is fascinating to know peer pressure is there, even when we don’t know the peers personally. They are simply our peers in the human race. The next time you are in line for the beef patty because that is what everyone else is in line for, snap out of it! Maybe it is time to take a valiant stand against the gregarious travails of the horrific everyday “I’m just another number” bandwagon mentality that is slowly draining you of what used to be your decision making power! Oh, wait… Alternative is beans… Never mind.
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