The Psychology Behind Trend-Following

Photo by Queens on Unsplash

Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist. But I have recently been wondering about trends. How do they start? Is anyone truly original? Why are we so quick to follow the crowd?

So I did some research. In 1977, a Canadian-American psychologist by the name of Albert Bandura conducted a study with a group of young children who were frightened of dogs.

Each day the children watched a young boy happily play with a dog for 20 minutes. After four days of conducting this experiment, 67% of the children who watched the boy play with the dog were now willing to enter the play pin with the dog.

When a follow-up study was conducted a month later — the same children who were originally frightened of dogs — were willing to interact and play with the dog themselves.

Researchers concluded that the children used the behavior of the boy playing with the dog as a model to change their own behavior.

So how does this apply to trends?

We live in a chaotic world. Not everyone has the time to research the pros and cons of the newest iPhone, or whether Carhartt beanies actually keep your ears warm. Instead, we rely on the popularity of an item as a sort of “mental shortcut.”

If everyone is raving about a certain item, there must be a reason.

People often assume “trend followers” are concerned with stature or popularity. While this is often the case — considering acceptance into a group of peers makes life much more comfortable — a percentage of trend-following boils down to convenience.

While company advertisements take some credit for attracting customers, oftentimes the products our friends are using work as the most persuasive advertisements.

Because of this, companies often target their advertisements to specific age groups in specific proximities.

If a student sees an advertisement for the latest Vans shoes and goes out and buys them, more students are likely to want a pair when said student walks into school on Monday raving about how comfortable his new shoes are.

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