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How Flocking Behavior Works In Birds — And Humans

There is evidence that humans tend to sync their actions with the group, or crowd’s patterns eventually. This characteristic seems only natural, in that many animals and organisms are very group-oriented; flocks, hives, packs, humans behave very much like animals do in the social setting. Humans are susceptible to conformity, despite our emphasis and pride in our own individualities.

The article takes “hipsters,” as an example. The hipster is the individual or set of individuals who do not follow the crowd, take the path less beaten, are averse to mainstream trends, and avoid conforming. However, computational neuroscientist researches are proposing the “’hipster effect’ asserts itself in human populations no matter how individualistic we imagine ourselves, because it’s individuality itself that sparks conformity.” Basically, when an individual breaks from conformity, there forms a trend off of that person in his/her likeness, and then that individual break, that hipster moment of nonconformity because conformity itself.

Jonathan Touboul, a mathematical neuroscientist in France says that ultimately, groups will result in uniformity: “If you take large sets of interacting individuals — whether hipsters, stock traders or any group that decides to go against the majority — by trying to be different, they will ultimately all do the same thing at the same time. The reason for that is the time it takes for an individual to register the decisions of others. You cannot be aware of what other people decide in real time, it takes a little while.”

This is what makes trends so strong in today’s media, social media, and tech saturated environment. Trends, hashtags, zeitgeists, market patterns, viral content, fashion, stock patterns—all of this results from the decision-making of individuals who have been influenced by their neighbors to do the same thing as them, follow the crowd.

All of these observations just bolster the concept that we learning in class: information cascades. Websites like Yelp, and other consumer sites that provide customer ratings and reviews heavily endorse and influence the decisions of people. Amazon even tags highly and often rated products with “#1” and even lets the user filter by ratings. All of this just shows that a group will favor one choice and there will thus form a cascade of the same decision.


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November 2014