Why You Should Not Follow the Crowd￼
If everyone follows the crowd, should you join them as well?
When I was in middle school, all I wanted was to fit in. Despite my effort, I didn’t have any friends. Every day, I sat watching other people gossiping and giggling. All that time alone gave me ample space to think about life in high school and beyond.
I found solace in writing. I wrote about my dreams and feelings. Over time, my writing improved, and I won writing contests. My essays were often displayed in the hallway at school. Those popular kids offered to be my friends if I did their writing assignments. I said no.
Now, I consider those lonely years a blessing. They taught me to focus inward, on what I want and what I need to do to realize that want. Had I been popular at school then, I’d never have started writing.
Social proof has become the gold standard of validation. Almost everyone looks up reviews before trying out a new restaurant or hotel. If others say the place is worth the money, it can’t go wrong.
While social proof can be useful in selecting products and services, following the crowd all the time might take away the opportunities to discover your own path. Thus, most tourists hang out at the over-crowded must-see sights, and only a few non-conformists get to enjoy the quiet and authentic experience as the locals do.
In a study conducted at the University of Exeter in England, researchers found “a natural desire to be part of the ‘in crowd’ could damage our ability to make the right decisions.”
The power of conformity is so strong that most people choose to go with the flow in their life. Here’s an example.
“[The elevator experiment] appeared on the TV show Candid Camera in 1962. In the episode titled Face the Rear… unknowing individuals entered an elevator where everyone else was facing backwards. Despite this being a completely unnatural thing to do, many individuals ‘went with the crowd’ and rode the elevator facing away from the doors.”
In his book Cognitive Errors and Diagnostic Mistakes, Jonathan Howard, MD, cited this herd mentality often leads to wrong diagnoses in medicine.
The lead researcher of the above study, Dr. Colin Torney, explained: “Social influence is a powerful force in nature and society… [T]he challenge is in evaluating personal beliefs when they contradict what others are doing. [This study] showed that evolution will lead individuals to overuse social information, and copy others too much than they should.”
If you have always followed what others do, consider taking a step away from the crowd. As American poet Robert Frost wrote in his poem “The Road Not Taken,”
“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”