Freeway driving and following others

from Influence: Social Proof

He said he know understood the cause of a type of traffic accident that had always puzzled him before. The accident typically occurred on the city freeway during rush hour, when cars in all lanes were moving steadily but slowly. Events leading to the accident would start when a pair of cars, one behind the other, would simultaneously begin signaling an intention to get out of the lane they were in and into the next. Within seconds, a long line of drivers to the rear of the first two would follow suit, thinking that something — a stalled car or a construction barrier — was blocking the lane ahead. It would be in this crush to cram into the available spaces of the next lane that a collision frequently happened.

The odd thing about it all, according to the patrolman, was that very often there had been no obstruction to be avoided in the first place, and by the time of the accident, this should have been obvious to anyone who looked. …

So if a pair of freeway drivers decided by coincidence to change lanes at the identical moment, the next two drivers might well do the same, assuming that the forward drivers had spotted an obstruction … For drivers to the rear, there could be no question about the correctness of changing lanes: “All those guys ahead must know something.”

This applies to many other decisions in life as well. I noticed that here in Marks Hall, a huge number of people are applying to stay here next year. This is partly because just a few people early on decided they were going to stay. Other people, not knowing what other dorms were like or what the apartment experience is like, subconciously (or not) thought that these people must know something they don’t, and that Marks Hall is a great place to live and hard to get into.

Similarly, last year, a couple people decided to try the apartment experience. Suddenly, a huge group of people all got together to room together and live in nearby apartments, etc. In other words, the decisions of just a couple people that may have been coincidentally similar, sparked a huge following by the rest of the students here, all looking for guidance and basing their housing decision on what other people are doing.

One Response to “Freeway driving and following others”

  1. Michael says:

    Good example of “Herd” mentality.

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