Understanding The Human Herd Mentality
Researchers at Leeds University, led by Prof Jens Krause, performed a series of experiments where volunteers were told to randomly walk around a large hall without talking to each other. A select few were then given more detailed instructions on where to walk. The scientists discovered that people end up blindly following one or two people who appear to know where they’re going.
The published results showed that it only takes 5% of what the scientists called “informed individuals” to influence the direction of a crowd of around 200 people. The remaining 95% follow without even realizing it.
“There are strong parallels with animal grouping behavior,” says Prof Krause, who reported his study with John Dyer in the Animal Behavior Journal. “We’ve all been in situations where we get swept along by the crowd but what’s interesting about this research is that our participants ended up making a consensus decision despite the fact that they weren’t allowed to talk or gesture to one another… In most cases the participants didn’t realize they were being led by others.”
This is excellent example of how the human brain is setup for social life. Even without a top-down organizer or any obvious rules, society just falls into place. Unfortunately, that “follow the herd” mentality isn’t always beneficial. If we’re not fully versed on a subject, we tend to follow the guy who appears to know more than we do. That sort of behavior applies to more than just random walking, we do it in everyday life from picking political candidates to deciding what type of car to buy.