Tl;dr: The bandwagon effect describes when we adopt beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors because we think other people are doing so. This type of cognitive bias causes us to make decisions based on what we think is popular, rather than what we think is right. Slowing down decision making, avoiding peer pressure, and keeping ourselves accountable to our decisions can help us minimize the bandwagon effect.
Anyone else noticed that fanny packs have made a comeback? One day, we all silently agreed that they were not cool. The next, it seemed like they were the must have accessory and EVERYONE had one. What happened, you ask yourself? Why am I suddenly buying every ugly fanny pack in the store? Maybe they are actually that great: hands free, easy access, lots of storage. Or this could be an example of the bandwagon effect. Our peers thought they were great, so now we do too!
The bandwagon effect is the psychological phenomenon seen when people adopt beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors simply because other people do.
The bandwagon effect can be a helpful heuristic, or cognitive shortcut, to help us make choices quickly. For example, this Nerdy Girl feels like most characters in horror movies could really use some bandwagon effect. Everyone in town thinks that creepy old house is haunted? Stay away!
However, the bandwagon effect can have negative consequences for us too. This might encourage us to make choices that actively contradict our beliefs or take actions that don’t help us. People may choose not to vaccinate their kids because they see other people make that choice, for example, or jump into a fad diet that is dangerous for health.
Why does the bandwagon effect happen?
One reason is FOMO. No one wants to feel left out or different from the crowd. Another reason is a belief that others might know something you don’t. And, naturally, we want to be a part of something popular and be on the winning side of an argument.
How do we avoid the bandwagon effect?
First, take a minute and slow down. Ask yourself: Why do I think this? Are there social pressures or cues influencing my decision? What other factors should I consider? Taking a beat and separating our decision by both distance and time can help. Find a quiet space or sleep on it to give yourself some distance from those influencing social cues. Try not to make important choices when peer pressure is highest. We can also actively look for evidence and apply a rational perspective to weigh that evidence, carefully considering the alternatives. Lastly, we should all hold ourselves accountable for our decisions and behaviors. Just because other people did the same thing, doesn’t necessarily mean it was right. Being our own accountability buddy can help us keep our choices in line with our values and avoid some bandwagon regrets.
Stay safe. Stay well. Check those biases!
Those Nerdy Girls
The Decision Lab: Why do we support opinions as they become more popular?
Effectiviology: The Bandwagon Effect: Why People Tend to Follow the Crowd
verywellmind: Bandwagon Effect as a Cognitive Bias