Home > Cognitive Bias > Hop on the Bandwagon…. or Don’t!

Hop on the Bandwagon…. or Don’t!

Would you ever jump off a bridge because everyone else is? Have you ever bought a product because “everyone” has it and you feel left out? If so, you have fallen into the trap of the bandwagon effect. This cognitive bias is defined as  people’s tendencies to quickly conform to popular trends or beliefs within their society (Simon, 1954). This cognitive bias is one that is frequently seen within everyday behaviors. Whether it is seen in social media, advertisements, politics, fashion, or any other trends, people are always trying to jump on this metaphorical bandwagon. One question about why people choose to conform, even if it is not in line with their own personal values or opinions, can be partially answered by the bandwagon effect. Conforming to social norms is something that the Millennial generation has continued to do as a result of pressures from prior generations.

Bandwagon Effect Meme

Although the bias was proposed in 1954, nowadays, the constant pressures to always be up to date with the different trends will only continue to grow as social media continues to take over our lives. The recent creation of social media and other forms of communication only help such cognitive biases flourish. The image to the right is a meme that is mocking the bandwagon effect. Nowadays, people’s eating habits are changing purely because things like “not eating gluten” are cool. People are ignoring actual evidence about different product’s true purposes, and hopping on the bandwagon. People’s desires to consume, buy, and use certain products are not always influenced by the product’s usefulness, but rather by what trend setters are doing. For example, extraneous items that are not necessities of life, such as iPhones, are typically bought based on consumer reviews. Think about things you have purchased in the past. Can you think of any good examples of products you bought because it was advertised as, “everyone’s favorite,” or “America’s best?”

Examples of the bandwagon effect can also be seen within recent movies. One example comes from one of my favorite movies, The Lego Movie. This movie is a great, and funny, example of the bandwagon effect in the works. Characters in the movie do exactly the same thing every day. They all drive the same car, eat the same food, and go to the same stores because no one wants to go against the norms. In the movie, there are alternate universes that the characters could explore, but none of them want to be, “original,” and try to go against the societal opinions. Regardless of the main character, Emmett’s personal desires or beliefs, he does everything that everyone else in the society does so that he feels like he can fit in.

The image below is from the movie where the main character has fallen as a victim to the bandwagon effect because all of his behaviors are influenced by what others in the society are doing, and he just ignores his own personal desires. In the movie, all of the characters live in identical apartments that look just like the one pictured below. Additionally, they all sing a song called, “Everything is Awesome,” which alludes to the fact that everyone needs to jump on the bandwagon and say that everything in society is, “awesome,” regardless of their personal beliefs.

Gif from The Lego Movie

Furthermore, one example of the bandwagon effect in real life is seen in an article called, “Household energy use: Applying behavioral economics to understand consumer decision-making and behaviour,” (Frederiks, Stenner & Hobman, 2015). The article explored how energy-saving behaviors, such as conserving or carelessly using energy, counter people’s personal values and consumer interests to further understand behavioral economics. Participants were given made up information that their neighbors were either using more, less, or the same amount of energy per week as them. Researchers found that psychological and behavioral economics can be used to explain some economic behaviors. Consumer decisions are in fact driven by people perceptions of a situation, and specifically the bandwagon effect. For example, when people within a neighborhood are given information about how much electricity their neighbors are using, they will alter their energy use to match that of the others in their neighborhood. It became evident that being the outcast is a scary reality, so people jumped on board with the community norms to feel better about their behaviors.

Nike Advertisement Utilizing the Bandwagon Effect

The image to the left is one example of an advertisement using the bandwagon effect. To get people’s attention, Nike says that “everyone” is buying their products. This ad highlights the cognitive idea of availability heuristics which, states that whatever is most available in your mind will be used to make judgements. Nike’s suggestion that everyone has their products will influence the consumers perspective, because the information that is available to them is telling them that if they want to fit in, they should purchase their products. As a result of occurrence like this, many companies have become more and more cautious of these psychological marketing strategies, and use them to make a bigger profit. So, leave it to available stimuli in an environment and availability heuristics to drive people’s decision making.

“Jean Jacket Fad” at Bowdoin College

Do you notice anything funny about the photo on the right? Believe it or not, the image was taken at Bowdoin College. It illustrates the idea that the bandwagon effect is occurring at nearby universities and we do not even realize it! Many people follow fashion trends, such as the “jean jacket” trend, because it makes them feel like they are part of the in-group. Simply because everyone else is doing it, people adopt different styles, behaviors, and attitudes towards products and ideas.

Interestingly, the bandwagon effect is also seen within voting and politics. In an article by Feddersen and Pesendorfer (1997), evidence showed that voter decisions about who they vote for were heavily dependent on how they believed other Americans were voting. The fact that people are so interested in what the greater population is doing shows that people behave one way or another even if it does not match their opinions, both politically and socially.

I highly recommend watching The Lego Movie (2014) if you are interested in watching a funny representation of the extremities of the bandwagon effect. Below is a link to an article about the 2016 Presidential Election if you would like to further explore the Bandwagon Effect in another context.- https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/15/upshot/everybody-loves-a-winner-so-what-happens-if-trump-loses.html

So, next time you go to buy a product, or do something because others are, think about why you are doing it. Is it something YOU want to do? Is it in line with YOUR values and opinions? Although cognitive biases are not things you can cognitively control, just think about your behaviors. In the future, try to listen to your feelings and opinions so you can make decisions on your own.

Citations

Feddersen, T., & Pesendorfer, W. (1997). Voting behavior and information aggregation in elections with private information. Econometrica: Journal of the Econometric Society, 1029-1058.

Frederiks, E. R., Stenner, K., & Hobman, E. V. (2015). Household energy use: Applying behavioural economics to understand consumer decision-making and behaviour. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews41, 1385-1394.

Simon, H. A. (1954). Bandwagon and underdog effects and the possibility of election predictions. Public Opinion Quarterly18(3), 245-253.

  1. May 14th, 2018 at 09:19 | #1

    I really like how you show the jean jacket fad at Bowdoin instead of Colby, its a nice touch to a great post. It is so interesting how everyday we experience and even partake in the bandwagon effect without even noticing. I think it is very interesting how social media plays a role in this effect because people are often so afraid to stand out and conforming on social media is one major reason why. I think this is also interesting and connects to the cheerleader effect in some ways because conforming to others and grouping yourself with everyone else, making individual differences harder to point out without some attention gives off the illusion of confidence. It’s almost as if we are tricking ourselves and others by conforming and blending in with our environment. I also think its interesting how this article touches on the idea of how conforming to others is just easier. I think this is interesting when thinking about the cheerleader effect and how walking into a party with others is way easier than alone, although it attracts more attention the attention is dispersed among the group not on one individual.

  2. May 17th, 2018 at 12:14 | #2

    My favorite thing about this post is the visual aids you used to support your explanations of the cheerleader effect, beginning with the meme at the top. This type of visual aid is very applicable to the audience because it is a common modern day form of comedy and entertainment. Your explanation of the image also made the band wagon effect very clear in my mind, because I could relate to exactly what you were talking about when you discussed how people change things like their eating habits based on what others are doing about their eating habits at that time. I also thought your reference to the Lego movie was very interesting and applicable. I liked how you used this example where the effect is so prominent that it changes an entire society, which is basically a fictional exaggeration of what happens around us in actual life.

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