In this post, we’ll unpack all you need to know about Herd Mentality, defining exactly what it is, its origin, how and why it evolved, how to overcome it and more.
What Is Herd Mentality?
Herd mentality, also known as mob mentality, pack mentality or groupthink, is the tendency for humans to behave in ways that conform with others in a group rather than as individuals. In short, we go along to get along.
Voting, demonstrations, riots, strikes, sporting events, religious gatherings, everyday decision-making, judgement and opinion-forming are all forms of Herd Mentality. For better or for worse, we follow the herd.
The Origin Of Herd Mentality
Herd Mentality is derived from a pattern of behaviour observed in animals in herds. Think of a sheep blindly following the flock no matter where they go just because that’s what the herd is doing.
While its origin stems from the behaviour of animals, the Herd Mentality analogy is a powerful teaching tool that we can also use in the context of the behaviour of humans.
The Solomon Asch Conformity Experiment
We’d all like to believe that the choices we make are based upon our own independent thinking. However, the reality is that that’s not always the case.
In a now classic experiment, psychologist Solomon Ash conducted a study showing that 75% of people put in groups would deliberately select wrong answers to questions in order to conform to the group, compared to only 1% when they were alone.
The experiment concluded that people conformed for two main reasons: because they want to fit in with the group (normative influence) and because they believe the group is more informed than they are (informational influence).
Remarkably, research shows that it takes a minority of just 5% to influence a crowd’s direction — and that the other 95% follow without even realizing it.
Herd Mentality & Chimpanzees
When a chimpanzee learns a superior strategy to crack open nuts as a member of one group and then switches to a new group that uses an inferior strategy, it will avoid using the superior nut cracking method just to blend in with the rest of the chimps.
Humans are the same. The normal behaviour of the tribe overpowers the desired behaviour of the individual, even to our detriment. We’d rather be wrong with the crowd than be right by ourselves.
The Evolutionary Lens
There are two main adaptive functions connected to Herd Mentality. The first is caused by the need for acceptance and the second is caused by the need to follow social norms.
- The Need For Acceptance
For most of human history, the ability to fit in was essential to survival. Rejection from a tribe meant isolation and isolation ultimately meant death. As a result, humans evolved to conform to perceived social norms to ensure they maintained their position within a tribe. In short, conformity facilitated acceptance.
- The Need To Follow Social Norms
For us to fit in, we needed to know what to do and what not to do. In order to know what to do and what not to do, we used social proof. Social proof is a heuristic that helps us make quick decisions by mimicking the behaviour of those around us. In short, social proof facilitated social norms.
While we live in modern-age times, we still bear stone-age minds. Thus, the problem with Herd Mentality is that we can become susceptible to conforming even when it goes against our own best interests.
How To Overcome Herd Mentality
Herd Mentality pervades all aspects of life because it’s part of human nature. People buy trending stocks because that is what everyone else is buying and they eat at busy restaurants because that is where everyone else is eating.
It’s important to understand that, just like anything, Herd Mentality is neither good nor bad, it’s how we harness it that determines its quality. For example, it can be a force for good when used to create positive change.
However, Herd Mentality becomes a problem when our true desires are suppressed in order to conform to the expectations of those around us and avoid being criticised or ridiculed.
Therefore, the key to ensuring Herd Mentality doesn’t hinder us is to firstly become aware of what’s driving our behaviours and then secondly to ensure we are making our decisions consciously and intentionally in a way so that they align with our values, our goals and the life we desire.
Not only are we prone to mimicking the body language and the emotions of those around us, but we are also prone to mimicking the choices of them too, thanks to Herd Mentality.
Herd Mentality refers to the human tendency to think collectively instead of independently. It evolved as an adaptation to the problem humans had in both the need for acceptance and the need to follow social norms.
The key to ensuring Herd Mentality doesn’t hinder us is ensuring that our decisions are made consciously and intentionally and in a way that aligns with our values, our goals and the life we desire.