羊群心理 Herd instinct

2012-07-06 10:39



羊群心理 Herd instinct

Please explain “herd instinct” in this sentence: They will be powerfully influenced by the herd instinct, the feeling that it is better to be wrong in large numbers than to be right alone.

My comments:

Herd instinct refers to the animal instinct by which a whole group of them stick together, both in times of peace and in face of common danger. Herd, you see, refers to a large flock or school of animals, such as flocks of sheep we see everyday in China or hundreds of gazelles grazing together in Africa.

Let’s take the gazelles in the African savanna (grassland), for example. The high jumping gazelles are a weaker species in the food chain. They eat grass and have lions and cheetahs as their major predators. Sure enough, every once in a while, a lion or cheetah will be coming by, lurking in the tall grass, ready to pounce. Gazelles huddle together like a flock of sheep, thinking by sticking together they will be safe.

This is true also in time of an actual lion or cheetah attack. Gazelles flee together in one similar direction instead of each going its own way.

This strategy sometimes sounds stupid, yet humans cannot blame gazelles or any other lower animals for using this strategy. After all, it is millions of years of evolution at work.

Or rather in play. Only humans, you see, are always at work and pride themselves thus; in the natural world, everything and everyone is forever in play.

Anyways, it’s not something rational. In other words, it’s not a strategy after careful thought. That’s why it’s called herd instinct, an instinct, something one is born with.

And, mind you, humans act in the same way, too. Not always, of course, but often enough. Psychologists also call this herd behavior, referring to the tendency for people to make the same decisions others make. In other words, people like to do what everyone else is doing. Somehow, they believe acting alone is riskier.

In the stock market, for instance, when a share rises in value, people rush in to buy this particular share even though rationally they might know there’s a limit to its growth. Conversely, when a share’s price falls, all people join the fray selling it, leaving the price to drop still further.

Hence the argument made in the top example. Influenced by the herd instinct, people feel that “it is better to be wrong in large numbers than to be right alone.” To be wrong in large numbers seems to hurt less, somehow.

I remember some 20 years ago watching Cool Hand Luke for the first time and feeling quite shocked by the ending of the film. The long and short of this prison drama (made in 1967) is, after going through all sorts of dangers and difficulties, Luke, played by Paul Newman, and two other inmates made their escape from prison. First thing they did once they were in the open field was to have a meeting for a fresh exchange of ideas as to what to do next. The upshot of this meeting is, knowing prison guards will be out immediately in search of them hither and thither, they decided to flee in three directions, i.e. each going its own way, the rationale being this increases the chances of someone eventually getting free.

I was shocked by this very fact – that after going through thick and thin, so to speak, they will not stick together in a joint pursuit of freedom. If this were a Chinese movie I kind of knew what the ending would have been. In the Chinese movie, I knew then as I know now that at least one, if not all three, of them would want them all to go the same route. I even know the words they’ll use as a rallying call. “If we die, let’s die together!”

It smacks a bit of cowardice but that’s the way it is. Just call it valor with Chinese characteristics.

Anyways, this contrast clearly demonstrates – at least it demonstrated for me then – that America is more of an individualistic society than China is.

Put another way, and to use the term of our discussion today, the Chinese may by and large have a stronger herd instinct than Americans do, for better or worse.

For better or worse, the herd instinct is what it is.

Here are media examples:

1. A TRIP to the supermarket may not seem like an exercise in psychological warfare – but it is. Shopkeepers know that filling a store with the aroma of freshly baked bread makes people feel hungry and persuades them to buy more food than they had intended. Stocking the most expensive products at eye level makes them sell faster than cheaper but less visible competitors. Now researchers are investigating how “swarm intelligence” (that is, how ants, bees or any social animal, including humans, behave in a crowd) can be used to influence what people buy.

At a recent conference on the simulation of adaptive behaviour in Rome, Zeeshan-ul-hassan Usmani, a computer scientist from the Florida Institute of Technology, described a new way to increase impulse buying using this phenomenon. Supermarkets already encourage shoppers to buy things they did not realise they wanted: for instance, by placing everyday items such as milk and eggs at the back of the store, forcing shoppers to walk past other tempting goods to reach them. Mr Usmani and Ronaldo Menezes, also of the Florida Institute of Technology, set out to enhance this tendency to buy more by playing on the herd instinct. The idea is that, if a certain product is seen to be popular, shoppers are likely to choose it too. The challenge is to keep customers informed about what others are buying.

Enter smart-cart technology. In Mr Usmani’s supermarket every product has a radio frequency identification tag, a sort of barcode that uses radio waves to transmit information, and every trolley has a scanner that reads this information and relays it to a central computer. As a customer walks past a shelf of goods, a screen on the shelf tells him how many people currently in the shop have chosen that particular product. If the number is high, he is more likely to select it too.

- Swarming the shelves, The Economist, November 9, 2006.

2. A Leeds University study has discovered pedestrians are likely to act like a herd when crossing roads, blindly following other pedestrians.

The study was led by Dr Jolyon Faria who was at Leeds University in the UK but has now relocated to Princeton University in the US. Dr Faria said the study aimed to find out if the behavior of pedestrians crossing a busy and dangerous road was affected by the behavior of people on either side of them.

The study analyzed the behavior of 365 people at a busy crossing in Leeds during peak traffic periods over three days. The pedestrian crossing was chosen because it was especially busy and one at which pedestrians often went against the Don’t Walk light, placing themselves in a potentially dangerous situation. Computer simulations were also used to determine what might happen if pedestrians ignored the actions of those around them.

The study, published in Behavioural Ecology and Planet Earth Online revealed that people are 1.5-2.5 times more likely to cross a busy road if the pedestrian next to them sets off first, and males were more likely to follow other pedestrians than females.

Dr Faria said the behavior could be because people feel safer when making a dangerous crossing with others. He speculated the gender difference may be because women are more conscious of their surroundings than men, who are more willing to risk following someone else.

The behavior may have originated in our evolutionary past, since herding behavior is common in many species. For example, wildebeest wait nervously on river banks until one is brave enough to go in first, after which all the herd follows. In their case the behavior makes sense because of the likelihood of crocodile attacks. Similarly, penguins wait on the edge of ice floes until one of them is brave enough to dive in and face attack from leopard seals.

Dr Faria said he hoped the study might encourage people to think twice before blindly following others onto the road, and said it also adds to our understanding of herding, flocking and shoaling behaviors.

- Pedestrians follow the herd instinct when crossing the road, PhysOrg.com, November 16, 2010.

3. The title this week might make you wonder a little, but I’ve been watching the news on TV lately and reading the morning paper and our weekly paper, and all I hear and see is what I’d like to call, “herd behavior”. You see and hear about all the people being arrested and sent to jail or to prison and usually the offense happened because they were in a group (herd). What do I mean by herd? Well, I read an illustration once about sheep being led to slaughter at a packing house. Huddled in pens outside the slaughterhouse were hundreds of nervous sheep. They seemed to sense that there was danger around but they weren’t sure from where the danger was coming. Sheep are not known to be real smart, that’s why they need a shepherd to guide them and protect them.

SA gate is then opened that leads up a ramp and through a door to the right. However, in order to get the sheep to walk up that ramp the handlers use what they call a “Judas goat”. One wonders where that name came from? The “Judas goat” is trained to lead the sheep into the slaughterhouse. These goats are very efficient at leading the sheep to their demise. He confidently walks to the bottom of the ramp and looks back at the sheep, takes a few more steps and looks back again. The sheep look around, still a little afraid, but then they start following the “Judas goat” up the ramp to their destruction. Eventually, they follow the goat to the top where he turns left through a little gate, and the sheep are forced to turn to the right and to their death.

That is a fine example of unthinking “herd behavior”, and the deadly consequences that it so often brings. That’s what I think of when I watch the news and read the papers, young people ruining their lives by following the “Judas goat” in their little group. Before you know it they are standing in front of a Judge and looking at serious prison or jail time. That’s if they are lucky, sometimes it doesn’t get that far because someone gets killed along the way. It could be a robbery, a car chase, a gun pulled on an officer, and in the blink of an eye, their life is over. Others are left to wonder why this happened to them. The answer is “herd behavior.”

Pick your friends wisely, do they try to encourage you, help you stay out of trouble, or is there a “Judas goat” among them that you will follow until it’s too late?

- Herd behavior leads to destruction, RaymondvilleChronicleNews.com, March 28, 2012.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


Safe and sound?

Damon and Pithiest

A no-brainer?

Ahead of the curve?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)



















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