The bandwagon effect is a common cognitive bias — that is, an innate and systematic error in our thinking — whereby people adopt a behavior or attitude because it is popular.
This tendency has major implications for individuals and may affect their lives in many aspects: It can dictate what clothes we wear, which political candidate we vote for, or even what diet we are on.
Taking the time to understand how and when exactly it sways our judgment will likely benefit you: You’ll be better able to identify it and avoid “hopping on the bandwagon” yourself when it wouldn’t be of advantage to you.
The bandwagon effect describes the tendency of people to start doing something simply because a lot of other people are doing it too.
In other words, when we come across a behavior, belief, or product that is popular, we feel pressure to adopt or buy it.
The name comes after the phrase “jump on the bandwagon”. In the past, politicians used to ride a bandwagon through the streets in order to gain attention and win votes. People who supported a particular candidate would literally hop on their bandwagon, hence the phrase.
This cognitive bias is a common phenomenon and influences people in a wide variety of situations, including:
- Politics: People tend to support a candidate who is supported by the majority of people, or who they see as more likely to succeed.
- Sports: People feel encouraged to start supporting a particular team after it has gained considerable success.
- Social networks: If many people begin using a social network (such as Facebook or Instagram), other people will follow in increasing numbers.
- Fashion: If one or more celebrities are wearing certain types of clothes, other people are likely to follow suit.
- Fads: Intense but short-lived trends occur when a large number of people quickly adopt a product or diet.
- Medicine: Certain treatments for illnesses are widely used despite not having been proven to be useful.
Why It Occurs
This effect, like other cognitive biases, works as a mental shortcut and has evolved to be a part of our cognition for a reason.
It helps us process information better and make relatively efficient judgments; rather than having to take the time and effort to make those individual judgments, we rely on the opinion of others whether or not something is worth doing.
Another major reason is that we naturally want to avoid being socially excluded. By adopting the behaviors of other people within our group, we ensure being socially accepted and approved.
Also, since we tend to view the things that are already popular as more correct, we feel as if we are on the “winning side” by accepting them.
Bandwagon fallacy, also known as “appeal to popularity”, is a logical fallacy that occurs when the popularity of something is offered as evidence for its truthfulness.
For example, if someone asserts that astrology must be true because so many believe in it, they are guilty of committing this fallacy.
The bandwagon effect can be the main cause behind this fallacy: Since people naturally tend to assume that widely accepted ideas are more likely to be true, they often use them as evidence for their claims.