Bandwagon Effect Definition and Examples

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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. The more people that adopt a particular trend, the more likely it becomes that other people will also hop on the bandwagon. 

The bandwagon effect is part of a larger group of cognitive biases or 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

  • 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. The bandwagon effect can also influence how posts are shared as well as interactions within online groups.
  • Diets: When it seems like everyone is adopting a certain fad diet, people become more likely to try the diet themselves.
  • Elections: People are more likely to vote for the candidate that they think is winning.

Influential Factors

So, why exactly 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.

Some of the factors that can influence the bandwagon effect include:

Groupthink

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.

A Desire to Be Right

People want to be right. They want to be part of the winning side. Part of the reason people conform is that 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.

A Need to Be Included

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.

Negative and Dangerous Effects

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.

    A Word From Verywell

    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.

    Sources

    Kiss, A & Simonovits, G. Identifying the bandwagon effect in two-round elections. Public Choice. 2014;160(3-4):327-344.  

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