“Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.”

Bertrand Russel


When we were allowed to drive down to Uni to watch our lectures and attend our tutorials I would always find myself observing those around me, trying to understand each individual.

Most of the time I would people-watch to see what starter packs I could create based upon what they wore to uni that day. But it was not only until I began to find a continuous pattern of human behaviour that I thought to myself…what would be an interesting question to ask students for BCM212?

I remember, what feels like a lifetime ago, at the beginning of the semester, waiting outside several tutorials and lectures contemplating why anyone wasn’t going inside. I would observe other lectures and see the students waiting for other students to come out or for one person to enter for everyone else to follow. I began thinking…why does it take one person to initiate the movement…? I wanted to understand why students behaved the way they did, why they were maybe ‘afraid’ or ‘worried’ to be the first one to enter a tutorial room or a lecture.

It was not until the first week back at uni and everyone waiting for a lecture that I really thought to myself if I went inside would everyone follow? To your surprise, everyone did follow and it was a really interesting sight to see because soon after I watched the behaviours at uni the Corona Virus hit the news and this caused many people to panic buy everything at the shops. From this, another sheep-like mentality started to form…

As a result from these observations the question I began framing in relation to the student experience was to dive deeper into understanding what creates the herd mentality also known as social conformity. This research was based around what causes people to simply accept and follow other people? Was it because we had FOMO (the fear of missing out)? Or was it something more?

In this opinion piece I will discuss not only the research that I have found but also the results from the survey I created that allowed me to understand the behaviours of students better.


During the beginning of the assessment, I began research on social conformity & the herd-like mentality coming across a few experiments that highlighted the research. Further experiments have been undertaken like the 1951 experiment to test whether or not humans are like sheep. The test conducted by the television program Brain Games found that we are programmed starting at a young age to react to things in a certain way and this influences us later in life and why conform with the herd or society.

In the program Brain Games, they tested Conformity and whether or not humans have the same brain mentality like sheep, the results were very interesting and can be viewed in the youtube video.

This experiment that Brain Games conducted was based upon the idea / theory that Solomon Asch created in 1951. He conducted research and experiments on social conformity proving that humans have these herd-like behaviours. He describes this theory as:

“A tendency so strong that reasonably intelligent and well-meaning young people are willing to call white black. This is a matter of concern. It raises questions about our ways of education and about the values that guide our conduct.”

Besides research countless experiments, I decided to take my research to google to see what articles I could find, specifically discussing student behaviour. I then came across this web article on how students give into the ‘mob mentality’ the below quote was a sentence that immediate stood out to me. Talking in class is another example of mob mentality, when one person begins talking it can then trigger other students to start chatting as well. The Coyote Chronicle.

It was an accurate representation of how the herd-mentality worked. I can recall countless times where one student will start talking to another student and then slowly everyone will begin talking among themselves slowly talk creating this build up of noise until “all hell broke loose”.


Has the media affected the way you behave?

The research gave me an understanding to what I expected from students in my survey. However, this was the best way to gather information as the information was coming straight from students. I conducted my survey to focus upon the behaviour of individuals during the global pandemic.

Beginning of the survey, I reflected upon how the media portrays the news to understand whether or not their actions were reflected by the way the news discusses things.

When I wrote my survey I created scenario based questions that were to do with every life. The feedback that I received helped me understand this mentality and “doing what others do”. It was really interesting when a question like which restaurant would you go in. Turned out to be a really obvious answer.

I had a total of 72 responses for my survey, 84.7% (61 students) answered yes to the media affecting the way they thought about COVID-19. To break this down further 31.6% responded stating that they feel worried from the way the media describes the news, 25.5% said that they ‘feel panicked by everyone panicking at the shops’, 23.5% have expressed because of the panic they feel they believe the too should also go and buy food “just in case something were to run out and 19.4% stated they wanted to prepare for the worst.

The below image reflects the responses based upon how the media influenced the way students think about COVID-19. In reflecting upon these results it reiterates the idea that one person may influence the behaviours of others creating the “herd-like mentality’.

The response to the media’s influence from COVID-19

The most interesting part of my survey was the reflection upon the purchasing of items at the shops. Due to the global pandemic there was a recent increase in the amount of items people were purchasing leaving the shelves at supermarkets completely empty.

I wanted to use the current circumstances to create a suitable question that would determine if the media created this herd-mentality or the fear of missing out.

The question I focused on in this section was based on whether or not you have bought more products than you usually would on your normal shopping trips, since COVID-19 began this year.

The categories that I focused on were non-perishable foods (eg. pastas, rices, canned food etc.), cleaning products (eg. hand sanitiser etc) and hygiene products (eg. toilet paper, pads etc.)

scenario one

In this part of the survey, I wanted to create scenario based questions that would allow me to further understand whether or not students were following the herd-mentality.

The students were required to answer which restaurant they were likely to go into. Whether or not the students believed that restaurants that are busy are more popular and has good food . The section finished with whether or not they believe that restaurants which are empty are not popular because they have bad food.”

The results in the section were quite interesting as 52.8% of students stated that they would prefer to go in a crowded restuarant rather than a restaurant that is almost empty.

To understand this further I gave the students 2 questions that would reflect whether or not their responses were because “since everyone is going there it must be good we should go there” and that type of statement is a reflection of the herd-mentality.

scenario two

Scenario two circles back to COVID-19 as the final questions of the survey. The scenario is based upon individuals panicking and buying everything in the shops.

As the individual questions don’t include the scenario here it is!

Scenario two: Someone has uploaded an image on Facebook in your local community group page. *The image is of an aisle from your local Coles or Woolworths store.* The aisle is completely empty, there is no food on the shelves. You turn on your television and see every news outlet cover stories about many stores across the country has aisles that are empty.

This section had a bit of inconsistency as I left “other” on the first question meaning a few students would write their own responses I realised early on this was ineffective to gather the responses so I took the answer down.

However besides that, I was surprised with how many students responded with 25% of students responding with ‘go to the shops and purchase food (you don’t want the stores to run out).’ I thought that was interesting as there is a big link between the herd-mentality and the fear of missing out. This is ultimately is what causes the panic in the first place the fear of the unknown and the fear that there won’t be enough supplies.


It is safe to say that from my own research about social conformity & the herd-mentality; that students in particular have this unknowing fear of the unknown, the fear of not knowing what to expect.

Which thinking about it does makes a lot of sense…

Maybe deep down subconsciously they are afraid of what is going to happen when they enter that classroom or lecture room. So to feel a bit more comfortable they follow the first student that enters the room because I guess it’s been deemed “safe”.

With this being said, social conformity does play a big part in the University experience, you can either follow the crowd or lead the crowd. I choose to lead the crowd most times.

I do wonder what lengths students would go to fit in or to feel a part of society. I might have to research more about that for another time!

Until next time take care of yourself,


Bibliography:

Study.com. 2020. [online] Available at: <https://study.com/academy/lesson/social-conformity-definition-social-vs-informational.html> [Accessed 27 March 2020].

Verywell Mind. 2020. Asch’s Seminal Experiments Showed The Power Of Conformity. [online] Available at: <https://www.verywellmind.com/the-asch-conformity-experiments-2794996> [Accessed 28 March 2020].

Facebook Watch. 2020. Shoppers Panic-Buy Toilet Paper At Woolworths In Revesby. [online] Available at: <https://www.facebook.com/7NEWSsydney/videos/203257060783466/> [Accessed 23 March 2020].

National Geographic. 2020. Coronavirus Is Spreading Panic. Here’S The Science Behind Why.. [online] Available at: <https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/reference/modern-history/why-we-evolved-to-feel-panic-anxiety/> [Accessed 28 March 2020].

A-Z Quotes. 2020. Solomon Asch Quote. [online] Available at:<https://www.azquotes.com/quote/762816> [Accessed 28 March 2020].

Psychology Today. 2020. The Science Behind Why People Follow The Crowd. [online] Available at: <https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/after-service/201705/the-science-behind-why-people-follow-the-crowd> [Accessed 27 March 2020].

Youtube. 2020. Brain Games -Conformity Waiting Room. [online] Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7iN0V-GbM0> [Accessed 28 March 2020].

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