Sometimes people copy the most irrational actions of those around them and, in doing so, sacrifice their lives unreasonably, agree to bad conditions, and forget about their own needs.
From the outside, such actions may seem completely insane, but this is a characteristic of the human psyche. The brain constantly saves energy and in conditions of uncertainty prefers to focus on others rather than seek one's own solutions. Scientists call this the effect of joining the majority. We tell you about it in the next issue of our guide to the psyche.
What is this
The majority effect is the tendency of a person to behave in the same way as the majority of his environment, often ignoring his own views, tastes, beliefs, and interests.
It is believed that politicians, especially in the United States, began to use the majority effect to win elections in the 19th century. Candidates often told how many people supported them in different localities, encouraging people to join them. But it wasn't until the 1950s that scientists began to study it closely. Since then, the effect of this psychological phenomenon has been found in almost all areas of human life.
It is the effect of joining the majority underlies the spread of fashion trends in clothing, cooking, culture. It helps to reinforce social norms: the more people begin to behave differently - for example, to have sex outside of marriage - the faster such behavior begins to be considered normal. And, of course, it is an important tool in any political struggle.
This cognitive distortion is, according to scientists, peculiar to every human being. Its markers are the following phrases:
- "What about me? I'm like everyone else."
- "Everyone has already gone to Turkey. And we should too."
- "Well, people know what they are doing."
- "Where are you going? Only freaks go there."
- "All my friends' daughters go to dance, Chinese, and programming. We should sign ours up, too."
- "The rest of them didn't say anything. So I didn't say anything."
- "There are so many people supporting this candidate. I'll vote for him too".
Why does it arise?
Because of human sociality. Sociality is a quality that has played a decisive role in the survival of humans as a species. In the wilderness, humans increased their chances of survival if they were members of a cohesive group.
Nowadays people no longer depend as much on each other's help and support. But they are still unable to resist their inherent need to be included in the human community and to be on friendly terms with others. Actively agreeing with the opinion of the majority and striving to behave like everyone else without standing out is a way to fulfill this subconscious need.
Because of the brain's desire for efficiency. Like other cognitive distortions, the effect of joining the majority helps you make important life decisions quickly without expending much energy. Therefore, the brain tries to use this mechanism in as many situations as possible.
Because of the desire to be right. Another subconscious human need: to make the right decisions. This contributes to success in life. But in practice, this is an incredibly difficult task. No one can guarantee that a decision that seems like a win-win will eventually turn out to be one. To minimize the risk of this happening, people rely on collective intelligence. Another collective distortion is to blame for this: the belief that large numbers of people, by definition, cannot be wrong about something.
What's the danger.
In some cases, the effect of joining the majority is beneficial. For example, it promotes healthy habits such as fitness and smoking cessation, so it can have a positive impact on the health of large groups of people.
But there are also many situations in which a person's tendency to behave like others leads to negative consequences. For example, the majority effect is one of the main reasons why many physicians spend years using ineffective treatments and prescribing drugs of unproven effectiveness, based on the fact that their colleagues do the same thing.
Often, influenced by the majority effect, people vote for populists. Or they make unprofitable decisions, for example, buying shares of companies in high demand at the peak of their price - and then lose money on it.
Or they make decisions that are openly dangerous to their own lives and the lives of others. They refuse to get vaccinated in the middle of an epidemic if their friends do the same. And they meekly comply with the demands of those above them, even if they don't agree with them internally, because everyone does it.
It is the effect of joining the majority that underlies the phenomenon of the spiral of silence, in which people do not dare to protest openly against injustice if others do not do so.
What to do
The effect of joining the majority can be combated using the same methods that are effective against other cognitive distortions. For example, psychologists believe that the mere fact that one is aware of one's tendency to do things based on others can help one refrain from doing so in important situations. And make the brain analyze the situation and then make its own decision.
Here are a few ways to do that.
Take your time. Especially if you have an important life decision to make. This will make it less likely that you will make it under the influence of the majority, guided by stereotypes.
Distance yourself from the situation. Try not to discuss the subject you're worried about with anyone for at least a few hours and not read about it in social networks. Such a break will help you calm down a little: reduce stress and anxiety. And formulate your attitude to the situation with a cool head.
Be critical of all information. And learn to check for accuracy: Always look for the source of the information yourself. If your acquaintances tell you something - don't trust them blindly, but ask how they know it.
Take responsibility for yourself. Try often to remind yourself that in the end for each of his actions will be responsible for you - not people under the influence of which you committed it. Therefore, in critical situations, always consider your own interests and values, as well as those of your loved ones.