While knee deep in researching my guide to crushing your next job interview, I’ve been doing a deep dive into behavioral psychology and cognitive biases.
If gone unchecked, cognitive bias permeates every aspect of our thinking and behavior.
Have you ever wondered why political candidates try to sell you on large, boisterous crowds full of people waving flags and stirring music? Or why a stock can surge to an all-time high even in the face of negative metrics and analysis? This is the power of the Bandwagon Effect.
The more people that believe something is true, then even more people will start to believe it. The reason for this can be two pronged, people like to conform with the group and we generally get our information from others. We tend to think that if “everyone else believes it, it must be true” (as in, “jumping on the bandwagon”).
Examples of this can be seen in elections, where some people vote based on who they think the likely winner is. Or in sports, where people suddenly become fans of the championship team.
You can also see examples of the bandwagon effect in advertising. A common tactic is to show large groups of people using a new product in commercials. We see this as “social proof” of the product’s value and seek to join in.
I’m sure you can find plenty of examples in your life where you have experienced this effect. To combat this, take a step back when making a decision and reflect on the information at hand and your personal values. Does the decision make sense and does it align with what you already believe? Also ask yourself why you want to make the decision/buy the product/etc. Is it because your friends are doing it and you don’t want to feel left out? Or is it something you genuinely want to do?
As someone once said,
“Hop off the bandwagon. It’s more fun to drive than it is to get pulled around.”
We also tend to gravitate towards situations and people that reinforce our current beliefs, and shy away from those who make us question or challenge our beliefs. We don’t like to be wrong, so we tend to interpret and remember everything in a way that confirms our preexisting beliefs, especially for deeply held and emotionally charged issues. This is called Confirmation Bias.
Is there something that you really want to be true? Chances are, you’ll end up believing it’s true just because that’s what you want to believe. This can be a slippery slope, because the more strongly you believe it, the less likely you are to believe information/evidence to the contrary.
Confirmation bias also causes you to only look for information that reinforces your beliefs. If you’re anxious about a social situation and fear other people don’t like you, you end up looking for and noticing only the information that reinforces that belief. In this situation, even the most neutral, innocuous behavior is interpreted as negative.
On the opposite end, this leads to wishful thinking and false optimism. It causes the impaired person to believe they’re capable of driving, or someone to think they’re cured of a disease at the first sign of a positive prognosis.
A way to thwart this pernicious bias is to continuously question your beliefs and be open to information that will prove you wrong. Be confident and be able to look at everything without the need to look only at things that soothe your ego.
Or as the (13th) apostle Rufus said in Dogma,
“I think it’s better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing beliefs is trickier.”
This is just scratching the surface when it comes to cognitive biases and is a subject for a deep dive in the future. There are over 100 different observed biases all working together to help create the complex beast that is human behavioral psychology.
Have you seen either of these in your own life? I know I definitely have (more than I’d like to admit, probably). Is there a situation where you’ve been biased and gotten past it?