This week's look at flaws in thinking is about the Bandwagon Effect. This is a form of group-think where we do or believe things simply because the majority of people around us do or believe those things. There is no critical thinking or assessment involved and when asked, "Why do you believe that? Why do you do that?" there isn't really a response to be given.
Let's Look at Some Examples
Marcia is a horrible worker. She is lazy and incompetent. It's amazing they haven't fired her yet. But, is this true? If I asked you for concrete evidence of this, would you be able to produce something? The Bandwagon Effect is at it's worst when it comes to gossip and group opinions of other people. The whole office may indeed think these things about Marcia without there being any basis in reality for their group belief. When asked for examples of Marcia's behaviors that support their opinion, the people caught up in the group-think won't be able to list anything specific at all.
Bob changed cities five years ago and found a whole new group of friends. Before, he always prided himself on being really liberal but his new city turned out to be really conservative. His new church, in particular, is much more hard line about a lot of issues he previously didn't think were a big deal. He has definitely noticed his opinions have become much more conservative and inline with his new setting and his old friends are now commenting on the real difference in him.
To Jump or Not to Jump - That is the Question
Most of the time the band wagon effect is a mild form of peer pressure where you just go along with the crowd and there are no major consequences for doing so. Think back to high school and really wanting to have a certain brand of jeans or to the present when you take the same silly quiz on Facebook because all your friends did. In the examples of Marcia and Bob though, you can see a much more adult version of the different ways the band wagon effect can come into play.
In the Marcia example, going along with the group-think is actually hurting someone. In these cases, you have a responsibility to ask critical questions of the majority about why they believe what they believe. There are times when your conscience or ability to see critically may keep you from going along with the group-think and it may prove quite difficult.
I selected the second example with Bob because I wanted to highlight how subjective viewing this effect can be based on your own world view. Bob's change in beliefs can be seen as a good thing if you're conservative and may be seen as a bad thing if you're more liberal. It's this stepping back and also seeing our own filters that is key here as well.
You will find that any belief or behavior worth adopting (or even continuing), can stand up to a pretty intense examination. And if it can't, you then have some choices: (1) Work to shift the group-think, (2) Go along to get along, or (3) Choose to separate from the group.
Learn to see the band wagon effect when it occurs.
Fridays – Flaws in Thinking
There are some common errors in thinking (more formally called cognitive distortions and biases) that can get in the way of healthy and helpful thinking. Each Friday, you will learn a new term to help in seeing your own thinking more clearly.
My Writing and Other Resources for Students
A growing collection of writing and other resources for students to use to continue their growth.