Groups – Herd Behavior

dogs m lIn watching the news this morning about the Trump protest last night, I was reminded of the concept of herd behavior or mob behavior. Although we are all autonomous individuals, we still all belong to a group or groups. We are greatly influenced by the groups we are involved in; we seek to matter, and in doing so we find that group membership fulfills our need to belong. Groups help to guide us, defend us, support us and love us. Unfortunately, some groups help to sabotage success and create discourse with other groups. Easy example of this is rioting. We would like to think that in our day and age, we are a civilized society and we can intellectually and peacefully disagree with another group. Sometimes we do; however, sometimes you only need one person to disagree in order to create chaos.

One charismatic, outgoing, boisterous person can push an entire group into behaving in a way that a person would not behave had they had been alone. When you are part of a group, you act within a domino effect; one person states their objection to an event, and then two more people agree, and then one person gets angry about it, and so on and so on. But it really only takes about 5% of a group to influence the behavior of the other 95%. This is called herd behavior because this is how many species of animals behave. Great example – I have three dogs. The smallest, most scared will be the first one to bark at a breeze going through the bushes. She will bark, then will run inside, while the other two dogs, not caring at first about that breeze, begin to bark wildly, running after that wind that didn’t matter until it mattered to someone else in their group. Had the other two dogs had been alone with that breeze, they would have done nothing about it. Rioting works this way. Most people who are involved in the negative, horrible behaviors that are generally seen in riots would not behave that way if they were the only person on the street, no matter what their opinion or beliefs were.

I mention this specifically because I am raising my children to be free thinkers and to continually ask questions and push the envelope; however, in doing so, to be able to be great leaders and not let their ‘groups’ fall into just being part of a herd. Now, mind you, all groups can and do behave as one especially when the desired outcomes are the same (getting a degree, finishing a project, etc.) so not all herd behavior is bad. It is the not forcing any group member to feel like their ideas, principles, or opinions are any more or less valid than any others in the group. Although, as a parent, my vote is what matters in the end in my group that I like to call family. Unless it’s sushi; I’m the only one who likes sushi.


Professor Mercy

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