The Power of Recommendations: How Herd Mentality Can Influence Us

Humans are essentially social creatures, and despite our advancement as a species, the old instinct to follow the herd is still present in the back of our minds.

Call it herd mentality, instincts or mob mentality – it’s all the same thing. Researchers have discovered that it only takes about 5% of people in a crowd to influence the behavior of the entire group.

Think about it: whenever there’s an emergency, a crowd of people will band together and all run in the same direction. Herd mentality doesn’t just apply in emergency situations, however. In one social experiment that was conducted, a group of people were asked to walk randomly around a large hall. A few select individuals in the group were given more specific directions and, sure enough, the others began to follow them. The best part of the whole thing was that the participants weren’t allowed to communicate with each other in any way.

Human beings (and any other social animal for that matter) have an innate need to fit in. We base a lot of our decisions on what others around us are doing and how they react to situations. Oftentimes we don’t even realize we’re doing it.

Children are great examples of this. How many times have you noticed that when one kid has a new style of dress or hair, a few days later nearly everyone in their class has the same look? Children imitate older siblings and friends in a lot of ways – from how they dress and talk to what they like to watch and eat. We tend to follow the lead of those closest to us. If a friend recommends a restaurant to us or a family member suggests a movie, we’re  much more likely to heed that advice than if we just saw either on a commercial.

Social media boosts the power of recommendation substantially. If one person on a social media network starts promoting an idea, especially on a site like Twitter, it isn’t long before nearly everyone they talk to is talking about it. It then becomes a big discussion, and soon people outside of the original group are joining in the conversation. The best part about social media is that it isn’t limited by geography. If a conversation starts in London in the morning, it’s reasonable to expect that it could be picked up as far away as the U.S. or Tokyo by dinner (London time).

Unfortunately, herd mentality isn’t always a good thing. Mob mentality is the darker aspect of the herding instinct. You see it in sporting events and protests. When one person gets too angry or belligerent, others follow the lead. In a situation like this, the herding instinct feeds on itself, building up until nearly everyone in the group is acting irrationally.

What’s the best way to avoid mob mentality or getting swept away with the herd? Stop and think. Look around you. An old adage comes to mind: “If you saw someone jumping off of a bridge, would you join them?” It applies perfectly to this topic. Just because the herd says run or buy or fight, doesn’t mean you have to. Don’t let the herd’s recommendation overrule your thinking. Better yet, by being calm and rational, maybe you can be part of the 5% it would take to calm everyone down.

Have you seen the herd mentality in action? I’d love to get some more examples!