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What is a Bandwagon Effect?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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The bandwagon effect is an observed social behavior in which people tend to go along with what others do or think without considering their actions. The likelihood of this is greatly increased as more and more people adopt an idea or behavior; this has led to the pejorative description “herd effect” in reference to this interesting behavioral phenomenon. It can be seen at almost all levels of human interaction, and being aware of its influence may help individuals make calculated decisions that are based on their beliefs and values rather than the temptation to go along with a group.

Social psychologists consider the bandwagon effect to be one among a large group of cognitive biases. A cognitive bias is a behavior that is based on memory, statistical, and social attribution errors. This particular behavior is reinforced by a number of other cognitive biases and psychological phenomena. When people all decide to join a social networking site or listen to the same musical group, these are classic examples of this effect.

This phenomenon is named for the political term “jumping on the bandwagon,” which refers to the tendency of voters to align themselves with the largest and most successful campaign. As more and more voters express support for a candidate or measure, the group grows exponentially larger. The “bandwagon” in “jump on the bandwagon” was a literal wagon that was used by a political candidate in the 1800s on a promotional tour.

Depending on the circumstances, this effect can be benign or quite harmful. It is especially harmful when it comes to ideals and ethics; it only takes a small member of determined people to promote ideas that can be harmful in a society. For example, a handful of people might promote hateful racial generalizations that spread to the rest of a culture through the bandwagon effect, leading to discrimination against members of that race. Once a bandwagon gets rolling, so to speak, it can be hard to undo the damage that has been done.

In the business world, the bandwagon effect can be very dangerous. Members of a company's development team, for example, might fail to see the flaws in a project because they want to support members of the group, in a related concept called groupthink. The effect can also lead to sudden explosion of similar products that ultimately crowd the market, causing customer interest to peter out and leaving companies high and dry.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By oasis11 — On Jan 30, 2011

@Icecream17-That’s true. I know that the real estate market also experienced its share of the bandwagon effect.

During the peak of the real estate market in 2005 many people became real estate agents and mortgage brokers because at the time these people were making money hand over fist.

In addition, people started to see the real estate market as lucrative and many bought homes in hopes of flipping them in order to make a fast profit.

The demand became so great for homes that people waited for hours in line just to be able to purchase a new construction property.

These properties had the highest demand and developments were often sold out in minutes. Now since the crash of the real estate market many builders have had to discount the sale price and offer attracting financing options in order to get people to buy.

By icecream17 — On Jan 28, 2011

@Suntan12-I agree with you. I also wanted to add that you can see the bandwagon effect in regards to product demand.

This happens especially during the holidays or when Apple launches a new product. People suddenly become interested in the latest hot item. This is why people got in line for days waiting for the I Phone.

This also happens regarding toys for children. Years ago the Tickle Me Elmo was all the rage and people could not get enough of the Beanie Babies stuffed animals.

As a matter of fact, when the Beanie Babies were featured in a Happy Meal promotion with Mc Donald’s many Americans bought tons of the Happy Meals for the toy and threw away the food.

This caused a lot of controversy at the time. Anytime something becomes a fad the bandwagon effect always comes into to play.

By suntan12 — On Jan 27, 2011

The bandwagon effect is best described during the Presidential election of 2008. Americans clearly voted for Obama because other people were voting for Obama.

There was no regard for his policies or voting record. People that voted for him did so because it was in vogue to do so.

This type of bandwagon effect example is very dangerous because electing a President is serious business. We have to know who we are electing. It should not be diminished to a passing fad.

As a result of this flawed bandwagon mentality many former Obama supports are getting their own feelings of cognitive dissonance because they bought into the romantic notion of electing this seemingly charismatic individual because he was articulate, but are now realizing how incompetent he is.

There was information put out there that was largely ignored by the American people because they really wanted to believe his hope and change rhetoric.

Unfortunately people realized that they elected someone with no leadership skills or experience. In fact he has not even managed a lemonade stand.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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