How affected are we by Cultural Phenomena? The Bandwagon Effect
Updated: Nov 1, 2020
Written By Malvika Nath
Imagine a scenario where you’re made to choose blindly between two equally mysterious rooms in a given time constraint. The only information you’re provided is that over 500 people had previously chosen to enter room A, whereas, only 6 people were inclined towards Room B. Now the question remains: given the opportunity, which room would you have entered?
Chances are, your cognitive bias pushed you towards Room A. This is an example of the bandwagon effect — a phenomenon that highlights the tendency of people to adopt or support the beliefs of the majority, sometimes by overriding their own. The implication is that since so many other people chose it, it must be good, or at the very least, acceptable. Over time, however, this effect has been used in political ‘power plays’ as a manipulation tactic to influence people to follow the trend. With the US elections looming, what does this mean for its citizens?
Well, several studies have tested this theory, and the overarching conclusion indicates that citizens are predisposed to vote for the party that appears to have more popular support. This is due to their desire to conform. It was found that Independents are twice as likely to vote for the Republican candidate when the Republican party is expected to win. In contrast, when led to believe that Democrats were expected to win, slightly right-leaning Republicans were more likely to vote for Democrats and overrule their own judgement. Thus, with poll results advertised, the bandwagon effect has snowballed into aiding the “leading candidates” on multiple occasions.
By now you must be wondering, “alright, but what on earth does a bandwagon have anything to do with all this?” Well, the term "bandwagon" refers to a wagon that carries a band through a parade. During President Zachary Taylor’s campaign, an entertainer named Dan Rice travelled across the country on his bandwagon. He encouraged people in the crowd to "jump on the bandwagon" and support Taylor. Subsequently, in the early 20th century, bandwagons became common in political campaigns, and "jump on the bandwagon" became a somewhat derogatory term used to describe this social phenomenon.
Speaking of social phenomena, have you ever questioned how far you’re willing to go for a new fad? Ever murdered a poor soul who was simply doing their tasks and then lied to everyone about it? Ruthlessly stabbed your best friend in the back and then dipped from the crime scene? Or how about shamelessly accusing an innocent bystander of the homicide that you committed, and then escorting them to their death sentence — all the while smirking to yourself. An imposter. A snitch. A murderer. I’m talking about a game that makes you toss your moral values out the window and enter a dimension where no one can be trusted — especially not your best friends.
Among Us recently became the most downloaded game of 2020 within a span of 3 months. This is a prime example of people hopping on the bandwagon. At the start of quarantine, everyone was virtually partying with their friends on Houseparty and watching (and making) TikTok videos. Now, they’re stabbing each other in the back and dancing to WAP — and it’s fun. Internet trends as such evoke intense and widely shared enthusiasm, however, they tend to be quite short-lived. They seem harmless and fun (sometimes cringey), and sometimes, even help raise money and awareness like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014. But the problem arises when it reaches the territory of being potentially dangerous.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was another trend from 2014 that involved the dumping of a bucket of ice water over a person's head. Many, however, ignored the original purpose: promoting awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and encouraging donations to research.
On the subject of dangerous territory, have you ever craved a snack while doing your laundry? On a late night, have you casually glanced at your detergent thinking: “mmmm, that lowkey looks scrumptious, let me have a bite.” No? Me neither. However, in 2018, the TidePod Challenge blew over the internet with teenagers trying TidePods for the sake of the dare. Procter & Gamble, the company producing these TidePods, had to put out a statement saying that their products were meant solely for cleaning and weren't made to be ingested. Sounds ridiculous, but exposure to this meme led to a spike in poisoning-related incidents.
Similarly, the “Kiki Challenge”, where people jumped out of their moving cars in traffic to dance to Drake’s latest hit was infamous for causing accidents. So yes, while these trends may be fun, a little silly at times, they do highlight the importance of not blindly following others simply because it's the new, cool thing.
Nonetheless, as much as we try, there is no escaping it. These fads and trends are fickle and they come and go as they please. Our subconscious mind is constantly affected by the choices of the people we surround ourselves with, and by the media that we consume. But it is good to be aware of this influence. So, the next time you start a new Netflix series, simply because everyone else was watching it (even though you have another one lined up), think about it. You will recognize that it's the bandwagon you’re hopping on, although it may not necessarily be a bad thing.