What Is the Bandwagon Effect?

Ready to jump on the bandwagon
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The bandwagon effect refers to the tendency people have to adopt a certain behavior, style, or attitude simply because “everyone else is doing it.” Essentially, the probability that any belief, attitude or behavior will be adopted by an individual increases if a large number of other people have also adopted it.

Psychologists consider the bandwagon effect to be part of a larger group of cognitive biases, which are errors in thinking that influence the judgments and decisions that people make.

Cognitive biases are often designed to help people think and reason more quickly, but they often introduce miscalculations and mistakes.

Examples of the Bandwagon Effect

  • Fashions: Many people begin wearing a certain style of clothing as they see others adopt the same fashions.
  • Music: As more and more people begin listening to a particular song or musical group, it becomes more likely that other individuals will listen as well.
  • Social Networks: As increasing numbers of people start using certain online social networking websites, other individuals become more likely to begin using those sites as well.
  • Diets: When it seems like everyone is adopting a certain fad diet, people become more likely to try the diet themselves.

Why Do People Fall for Trends?

Why does the bandwagon effect occur? Individuals are highly influenced by the pressure and norms exerted by groups. When it seems like the majority of the group is doing a certain thing, not doing that thing becomes increasingly difficult.

This pressure can impact many different aspects of behavior, from what people wear to who they vote for in political races.

The bandwagon effect is essentially a type of groupthink. As more people adopt a particular fad or trend, the more likely it becomes that other people will also "hop on the bandwagon." When it seems that everyone is doing something, there is a tremendous pressure to conform, which is perhaps why the bandwagon behaviors tend to form so easily.

People want to be right. They want to be part of the winning side. Part of the reason people conform is because they look to other people in their social group for information about what is right or acceptable. If it seems like everyone else is doing something, then people are left with the impression that it is the correct thing to do.

Fear of exclusion also plays a role in the bandwagon effect. People generally do not want to be the odd one out, so going along with what the rest of the group is doing is a way to ensure inclusion and social acceptance. The need to belong pressures people to adopt the norms and attitudes of the majority to gain acceptance and approval from the group.

While the bandwagon effect can be very powerful and leads to the ready formation of trends, these behaviors also tend to be somewhat fragile. People jump on the bandwagon quickly, but they also jump off it just as fast. This is perhaps why trends tend to be so fleeting.

Can the Bandwagon Effect Be Dangerous?

The impact of these bandwagon trends is often relatively harmless, such as in fashion, music or Pop culture fads.

Sometimes they can be far more dangerous. When certain ideas begin to take hold, such as particular attitudes toward health issues, bandwagon beliefs can have serious and damaging consequences.

Some negative or even dangerous examples of the bandwagon effect:

  • Individuals who were influenced by the anti-vaccination movement, for example, became less likely to get routine childhood immunizations for their children. This large-scale avoidance of vaccinations has been linked to a recent measles outbreak.
  • Researchers have found that when people learn that a particular candidate is leading in the polls, they are more likely to change their vote to conform to the winning side. In one study carried out during the 1992 U.S. presidential election, students who learned that Bill Clinton was leading the race in some polls switched their intended vote from Bush to Clinton.

While the bandwagon effect can have dangerous consequences, it can also lead to the adoption of healthy behaviors. If it seems that the majority of people reject unhealthy behaviors (such as smoking) and embrace healthy choices (such as exercising and working out), people may then become more likely to avoid risky choices and engage in healthy actions.

References

Morwitz, V. G., & Pluzinski, C. (1996). Do polls reflect opinions or do opinions reflect polls? Journal of Consumer Research, 23(1), 53–65. doi:10.1086/209466.

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