Promoting individual curiosity can protect us from the harmful effects of herd mentality and collective paralysis.
There are times when it’s more convenient to go with the flow than to stand out. When we are told that the majority of people feel a certain way about an issue, we tend to modify our minds and give in to the pressure of the group. It is possible to mistakenly adopt the attitudes, emotions, and outlooks of others around us without even realizing it.
Humans have a built-in tendency to mimic others and go along with the group, despite our pride in our uniqueness and our desire to believe that we can shape our own destinies. When we’re under pressure, we’re even less inclined to critically evaluate the ideas of others around us, and more likely to just agree with them. Unfortunately, our minds keep convincing us that our actions are the result of our own free will.
The financial industry, mob violence, political movements, religious gatherings, athletic events, riots, strikes, and even consumer preferences like fashion trends are all examples of situations in which “sheep” behavior, also known as herd mentality, is prevalent. In each of these situations, people form their own conclusions based on the views expressed by others without independently examining the data.
Sheeple are easily influenced by any form of danger, whether genuine or imagined. Fear of being different, unknown, or the odd one out is just as valid a dread as the fear of actual physical danger. For instance, people who are driven by the need to blend in will often make judgments that aren’t ideal and act in a herd mentality, both of which contribute to the development of groupthink.
Sometimes it’s not a good idea to go with the flow
Our forebears’ ability to work together in the face of danger or to forage for food is largely attributable to their innate herd instinct. Sheeple behavior leaves us vulnerable to deception, despite the fact that there are numerous advantages to communal life and work. This is especially true in the realm of leadership, as neoauthoritarian figures often come to prominence by appealing to followers’ fears of being left behind.
When people stop using their own discretion and establish their own opinions, the negative side of sheep behavior emerges. Fundamentally, people’s actions and thoughts begin to converge with those of those around them through a process known as social contagion.
Scientists have shown that only 5% of “educated individuals” are needed to steer a crowd in a certain direction, causing the remaining 95% to blindly follow suit. Historical leaders like Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini, as well as modern leaders like Bolsonaro, Trump, and Xi, have taken advantage of this trend among their followers. The frightening propaganda material Putin is using to indoctrinate the Russian people and justify his disastrous war is now on full display.
That even normally rational and sensible people can reject common sense is a result of this sheeple training in our minds. It’s only natural to seek to authoritative figures for direction in times of unpredictability.
How can we avoid falling back into herd behavior?
Consider your personal convictions
Independent thought and contemplation can lessen the likelihood of sheeplike conduct. Even if it risks making us appear silly, we must ask questions, analyze our alternatives, and educate ourselves in order to make well-informed judgments.
Just because everyone else is making a snap judgment does not imply that they possess superior knowledge. It will always be simpler to follow the crowd than to make autonomous decisions. Hence, before making a decision, we should explore our possible prejudices and question their origins.
Analyze and defend your alternatives
Realizing the necessity to defend our decisions would reduce our tendency to mindlessly imitate others. It will prevent us from living in an echo chamber and uncritically adopting views. It is our responsibility to analyze our personal convictions when they conflict with the actions of others. We should accept diverse viewpoints while also attempting to comprehend why they are so divergent.
Huge numbers of individuals can be in error
There will always be (conscious and unconscious) pressure to join to a group, regardless of our position. Given that humans are hardwired to conform, it will be tough to resist the majority position. We will always have to contend with the illogical notion that enormous numbers of people cannot be mistaken.
But, it is our task to reject this ideology. Never assume that something is correct just because the majority of people agree with it. Instead, we should consider if the decisions we make are truly our own or whether we have fallen prey to a herd mentality.
Read more: How to Become a Star in a Strange Land
Reflect and postpone action
Also, we must be mindful of how stress impacts our decision-making ability. When we feel compelled to respond fast, reflective decision-making is more crucial than ever. It is prudent to defer taking action until we have evaluated the issue and have a thorough understanding of what is occurring.
When we sense the lure of sheeple behavior, we should remember that our aptitude for both autonomous and dependent cognition is what has made humanity so successful and allowed our species to evolve. It has assisted us in gaining new knowledge and discovering, developing, and advancing concepts.
Obviously, this does not imply that we should disregard our evolutionary past. In the end, a dysfunctional society would be comprised of individuals who all followed radically diverse scripts, with no unifying themes. Humans are socially wired, which means that when we gather as a group, we seek common ground. So, our minds will always rely on a degree of groupthink.
At the same time, we must not forget that the only way to limit the risk of collective craziness is to encourage autonomous thought. It is consequently our task to differentiate between the wisdom and insanity of the masses.