Cognitive bias #1 Bandwagon effect

Cognitive bias: bandwagon effect

It has been difficult to avoid the word “bias” in 2020.

In the sphere of social justice, the word is associated with stereotyping, a particular type of prejudice that commonly arises against certain protected characteristics such as age, race, sex, gender reassignment and so on. This is an important bias to be aware of and one we’ll return to.

Let’s consider why bias is worth looking at in the context of learning. Specifically, we are going to focus on cognitive bias. A cognitive bias is a systematic error in thinking that affects the decisions and judgments we make.

Young people are often punished (or excused) for bad decision-making with respect to rules laid down by schools and/or parents and guardians. Transgressions may be simply analysed as being attributable to rebellion in the face of authority. This may or may not be true but it seems wise to give them the tools to assess their decisions and see what cognitive biases they may suffer from in the hope of leading to better decisions at school and outside. We’ll be going through a series of these biases so read along and see which you are guilty of.

The first type of bias is the bandwagon effect. This is where it becomes more likely that you will hold a similar belief or perform a similar action the more people you know with that belief or who have done that action. A simple way of summarising this is that you do something because that is what everybody else is doing.


An example of this is where you get asked in class to choose between two options (where there’s no correct answer) and you put your hand up for one option because everybody else did. In some cases, peer pressure can play a part but what we’re really talking about here is where you don’t give something enough thought and act like everybody else. Often, the impact of the decision may be insignificant but if this cognitive bias becomes part of the way you behave, in the big decisions, you may not catch yourself being impacted by this cognitive bias.

If when analysing your decisions, you find that this is the reason you decided to do certain things then you may be suffering from this cognitive bias.

If it’s something you want to change, what can you do about it?

  • Before you decide to act, It may be worth thinking through whether this action aligns with your values and/or what the likely consequences will be.
  • Another way to manage this may be to speak to somebody else who tends to think differently. Diversity of thought (and not just contrarianism) can be important to avoid groupthink.

If these biases are ingrained, they can be difficult to shake off. Forcing yourself to pause before major decisions and reassess whether you are falling prey to the bandwagon effect may be the way to go.

Next time, we shall take a look at the ostrich effect.

You can find the next post in our a2z series of important education terms and concepts HERE.

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