I hated school. High school in particular. Not because of actual school work, but rather because of this one thing called “peer pressure”. You did stuff or was suppose to do stuff, not because YOU really wanted to, but because you didn’t want to look like a loser or a ‘sissy, scaredy cat’ amongst your ‘so called’ friends. I mostly fell into the loser/sissy category. I didn’t really follow the group, not because I didn’t want to…well…sometimes I REALLY didn’t want to, but for the most part my parents’ wrath was more than enough to keep me on the straight and narrow. My heart however was where my peers were, cause who doesn’t want to ‘fit-in’ in high-school right? My mantra was “if I can just hold out till university, things will be different!”.

How naive.

I discovered the ugly, jaw-dropping, “surely-this-can’t-be-true” truth VERY quickly…we are all 1963761242.hipsters-blacksheep. You heard me…SHEEP. Those woolie things that cannot STAND to be on their own? Yeah, sorry to break it to you, but we’re ALL like that, no matter what age we are. We all want to fit in, even when some try VERY hard to be COMPLETELY different, becoming all the same in their ‘differentness’ (hipsters coming to mind anyone?).

Now before you think to yourself “Chris, your sanity has left you”, I want to enlighten you with a Behavioural Economic concept called the Herding Effect. The premise of this theory is that people are more inclined to do something, if they know a lot of people have done or are doing it. Why? You guessed it! Because people battle to do something different if they know or perceive a certain behaviour to be a social norm. You just DON’T want to be THAT guy or gal that breaks the unspoken rules that keep our “society” in check, whether it is a real community, group of friends or even the company that you work for. So you end up following the herd.

“NEVER!” you may say. But look at these two examples. The first is an experiment by a South African company who wanted to test this premise of the Herding Effect and Social Norms in Tipping-Behaviourthe simple form of a tip jar. Would a almost empty tip jar filled with some coins versus a full tip jar with coins and money notes make people tip more or less? The almost empty jar resulted in less tips. The full one on the other hand showed and increase of 102%. Now these results might not be robust enough to be statistically relevant BUT it does show how something as simple as an almost full tip jar with money notes can impact people’s behaviour. The premise: the full jar represents a social norm that everyone wants to follow, because you don’t want to be THAT person who does not tip properly.

A more measurable example is the “Dumb ways to die” communication campaign done in Australia1_dumb_ways_to_die. The essence of the story is that numerous unnecessary deaths happened due to young people being unsafe around trains and something had to be done about it. The ad agency created a campaign focused on the most outlandish ways people could die, which included dying due to unsafe behaviour around trains. The result: a 21% decrease in accidents and deaths around trains. Check out the full case-study here.

Now this campaign was probably NOT developed with the Behavioural Economics concepts such as the Herding Effect and Social Norms in mind, BUT see how they came into play? “Do YOU reaaaaaaally want to be like one of those stupid people who died in such a ridiculous way?” People don’t like to think of themselves as stupid and so would rather want to be “herded” with the SMART people. My behaviour will therefore conform to the SMART people social norm of being safe around trains.

Is this back-rationalised? Absolutely! BUT see the psychology behind why we do what we do. Understanding behaviour is not as one dimensional as many may think. And realise that something as small as the amount of money in a tip jar or a large communication campaigns can BOTH deliver behaviour changing results, if you understand the psyche of your inner sheep.


Note: all images courtesy of Google & Gravity Ideas.