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Herd behaviour is the term used to describe situations in which a group of individuals react coherently without there being any co-ordination between them. Such a group is called a herd. The term is used uncontentiously to describe the behaviour of animals within herds and flocks, and more controversially to describe some kinds of human phenomena such as stock market bubbles, and behaviour in political demonstrations.

Herd behaviour in animals

The case of animals evading a predator illustrates the uncoordinated nature of herd behaviour. It can be shown that each individual can minimise the danger to itself by choosing the location and behaviour that is as close to the centre of the group as possible; this was the subject of a famous paper by evolutionary biologist W. D. Hamilton called Geometry For The Selfish Herd. The herd thus appears to act as one in always moving and acting together, but its behaviour emerges from the uncoordinated behaviour of self-seeking individuals.

Symmetry-breaking in herding behavior

Asymmetric aggregation of animals under panic conditions has been observed in many species, including humans, mice, and ants.[1] Theoretical models have demonstrated symmetry-breaking similar to observations in scientific studies. For example, when panicked individuals are confined to a room with two equal and equidistant exits, a majority will favor one exit while the minority will favor the other.

Possible mechanisms

  • Hamilton’s Selfish herd theory.
  • Byproduct of communication skill of social animal or runaway positive feedback.
  • Neighbor copying.

Escape panic characteristics

  • Individuals attempt to move faster than normal.
  • Interactions between individuals become physical.
  • Exits become arched and clogged.
  • Escape is slowed by fallen individuals serving as obstacles.
  • Individuals display a tendency towards mass or copied behavior.
  • Alternative or less used exits are overlooked.[2]

The concept of herd behaviour as applied to human societies (crazes)

The phrase "herd behaviour" has acquired a certain currency in popular psychology, where the idea of a herding instinct is offered as an explanation of phenomena such as crazes where large numbers of people act in the same way at the same time. Such people are sometimes labelled with the derogatory term "sheeple."

A craze is an excessive fad or collective mania due to herd behaviour. Some crazes have mild consequences (fashions). But others lead to the excesses of mass hysteria. Popular psychologists describe this as involving the disappearance of the individual personality, with regression to some lowest emotional instinctive denominator described as "crowd sentiment". The evidence that there is any real psychological process of this nature is, however, weak, and in many cases the term "herd behaviour" is strikingly inappropriate for the phenomena, since the group is reacting under the orders or influence of a charismatic leader.

Examples of phenomena that have been described as involving herd behaviour include stock market bubbles, stock market crashes, street violence, demonisation and persecution of minorities, and political or religious zealotry. In reality these behaviours may have little in common other than the superficial fact that they all involve a number of individuals doing more or less the same thing, and the extent to which they can reasonably described as "herd behaviours" varies. Attributing such collective behaviour to a "pack mentality" or "group mind" explains little, and is most likely to divert attention from the true explanation of the group's actions. The following examples illustrate the range of phenomena to which the label "herd behaviour" has been attached at one time or another.

Examples of the application of the herd behaviour concept

Stock market bubbles

In the case of stock market bubbles, the optimal behaviour for an individual may be to do what everyone else is doing, because even though everyone knows that they are in a bubble, until it bursts, most profit is to be made by staying in the market. In this case the term "herd behaviour" is relatively appropriate, because the "collective" behaviour emerges from uncoordinated individual choices. Interestingly, though the behaviour of the group is evidently irrational, the behaviour of the individuals that cause it is rational at least in the short term, though it does show some abandonment of risk aversion, as the crash usually occurs without much warning. These phenomena are now much better understood as a result of investigations in experimental economics and behavioural finance, particularly by Nobel laureates Vernon Smith and Daniel Kahneman.

Behavior in crowds

Main article: Crowd psychology

Crowds that gather on behalf of a grievance can involve herding behavior that turns violent, particularly when confronted by an opposing ethnic or racial group. The Los Angeles riots of 1992, New York Draft Riots and Tulsa Race Riot are notorious in U.S. history. The idea of a "group mind" or "mob behavior" was put forward by the French social psychologists Gabriel Tarde and Gustave Le Bon.

Sporting events can also produce violent episodes of herd behavior. The most violent single riot in history may be the sixth-century Nika riots in Constantinople, precipitated by partisan factions attending the chariot races.[citation needed] The football hooliganism of the 1980s was a well-publicized, latter-day example of sports violence.

During times of mass panic, the herd type behavior can lead to the formation of mobs or large groups of people with destructive intentions. In addition, during such instances, like those during natural disasters, behavior such as mass evacuation and clearing the shelves of food and supplies is common.

Several historians also believe that Adolf Hitler used herd behavior and crowd psychology to his advantage, by placing a group of German officers disguised as civilians within a crowd attending one of his speeches. These officers would cheer and clap loudly for Hitler, and the rest of the crowd followed their example, making it appear that the entire crowd completely agreed with Hitler and his views. These speeches would then be broadcast, increasing the effect.

Everyday decision-making

"Benign" herding behaviors may occur frequently in everyday decisions based on learning from the information of others, as when a person on the street decides which of two restaurants to dine in. Suppose that both look appealing, but both are empty because it is early evening; so at random, this person chooses restaurant A. Soon a couple walks down the same street in search of a place to eat. They see that restaurant A has customers while B is empty, and choose A on the assumption that having customers makes it the better choice. And so on with other passersby into the evening, with restaurant A doing more business that night than B. This phenomenon is also referred as an information cascade.[3][4][5][6]

Religious and political affiliations

People who are sometimes accused of herd behaviour are followers of religions, new religious movements, and cults, especially if they follower a charismatic leader. Nazism is for many people the most shocking example of this kind of herd behaviour. Here the term "herd behaviour" seems quite inappropriate for the actual behaviour of the group, however, since people are clearly responding to a leader, and their behaviour is often closely co-ordinated with careful delineation of roles. Deciding to affiliate to such a group, however, can reasonably be thought of as a craze like any other.

See also

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  1. Panic-induced symmetry breaking in escaping ants. (PDF) URL accessed on 2011-05-18.
  2. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named hamilton
  3. Banerjee, Abhijit V. (1992). A Simple Model of Herd Behavior. Quarterly Journal of Economics 107 (3): 797–817.
  4. Bikhchandani, Sushil (1992). A Theory of Fads, Fashion, Custom, and Cultural Change as Informational Cascades. Journal of Political Economy 100 (5): 992–1026.
  5. (1992). Herd on the street: Informational inefficiencies in a market with short-term speculation. Journal of Finance 47: 1461–1484.
  6. (2003). Herd behaviour and cascading in capital markets: A review and synthesis. European Financial Management 9 (1): 25–66.