Following the Herd

In china you will often see popularity in following trends. People will que for hours to eat at an overcrowded restaurant or shop at the busiest store. So, what causes people to follow the herd?

Have you ever noticed that in many cases, Chinese people tend to follow the herd for basically everything? They are quick to pick up on the latest breed of dog to keep as a pet, which tutoring school is best for their child, which supermarket to shop at, which kind of soap opera or entertaining shows to watch, this tendency has conveniently created numerous online celebrities, restaurants, shops and TV shows. However, it is not only limited to the consumers, but the manufacturers and service providers are also sensitive at catching the first sign of a potential trend and copy the same products or business models.

A recent example was on August 27, the American supermarket chain Costco opened its first store in Shanghai and unexpectedly saw tides and tides of people flooding into the mall, causing serious congestion for days. Cars needed to wait three hours to get in the parking lot. Customers waited two hours to pay the bill. More people waited in line outside the mall from 2 am the second day it opened. Eventually, the shop had to close early in the afternoon to limit the number of visitors.

This is nothing new to China. People.cn did a survey almost a decade ago, asking nearly 5,500 people their opinions towards the phenomenon. Over 75 percent of respondents agreed that the degree of this phenomenon was very severe, but it was common behavior. When choosing answers on how to view it, 47 percent of respondents opted for “a behavior showing the lack of independent thinking” and 43 percent chose “reflection of the restless attitude under social transitional period.” As for the reason, some said it was lack of personal beliefs and others attributed it to what they learn in school.

We lose our ability to think indepently and get used to compeletly trusting the authority or mainstream even though we have doubts.

In psychology, this is known as conformity, the act of matching attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to group norms or politics. In fact, people apply it to daily life preferences, personal hobbies, habits and attitudes. However, some people argued that since there are so many people in China, that it is just a small percentage of the population doing the same thing. It could be a much larger number.

I can’t help but think that it has to do with the root of our culture and the formal education we receive. I can only speak from my personal experiences and am sure the dynamics are starting to change, but when I attended school, I was told not to speak up or stick my neck out, instead, I should be modest and compromise. I was also taught to be ready to sacrifice for the common good, even if I did not agree with the option. Any outliers were punished in school and society. I think we’ve learned to make the “safe” choice but maybe not always the “right” choice. I think this promotes a society that does not always encourage individualism. This could cause individuals to lose their ability to think independently and get used to being told what to do, even though there are doubts.

Rod Bond and Peter B. Smith from the University of Sussex published Culture and Conformity: A Meta-Analysis of Studies Using Asch’s (1952b, 1956) Line Judgment Task, investigating whether the level of conformity has changed over time and whether it is related cross-culturally to individual-collectivism. Results from three surveys found out that “collectivist countries tended to show higher levels of conformity than individualist countries.”

I’ve noticed some young people are getting better at resisting the herd mentality compared to the older ones and are not so afraid to strive for what makes them different.