When Your Life is at Stake by Following the Herd
Most people have little to no conscious awareness of why they do the things they do. Their behavior is on auto-pilot 99% of the time as their subconscious mind steers them toward meeting its own needs. It doesn’t matter to the subconscious if its mistaken and the behavior is self-destructive or even dangerous, so long as it thinks it is fulfilling its basic drive to keep you safe amongst your tribe.
We’re hardwired for social conformity, even when doing so may present an immediate danger to our safety. This phenomenon is well known, and is illustrated in a social experiment overseen by psychology professor Dominic Abrams in which researchers attempt to answer the following question.
“Behaving differently from your group can make you an outcast. But what would you do if you knew your group was entirely wrong? Would you, for example, sit in a burning room, just because everyone else does?” – Dangerous Conformity
In a hotel room rigged with hidden cameras and microphones, participants in a staged internet marketing event attempt to influence the survival instincts of another by pretending to ignore smoke and smoke alarms in a conference room with eight people.
In short, when the participant was alone in the room when the smoke appeared, their survival instincts kicked in and they left the dangerous situation quickly, even abandoning their possessions. When the participants was in the room with seven other people who pretended to ignore the smoke, the participant did nothing, staying in the room on an average of thirteen minutes, long enough to have killed them in a real fire.
“I was looking for some sort of reaction from someone else, even just the slightest little thing that they’d recognized that there was something, you know, going on here. For me, to nod or react on that and then do something about it, I kind of needed prodding.” ~Participant
In 1979 a scenario like this played out in real life in a Woolworth’s department store in Manchester, England. About 500 people were in the building when a fire broke out, which ultimately killed ten and sent forty-seven to the hospital. Investigators found that the majority of deaths occurred in the restaurant where people simply did not evacuate, presumably because of the ingrained and group behavior of waiting to pay the check.
“Now everybody’s looking at the smoke, but in some ways that gives the group even more influence. After all, if everybody can see the smoke and no one’s panicking, well, it’d be crazy of him to do it to.” ~Psychology Professor Dominic Abrams
One lesson here is that when people are alone they tend to take responsibility for themselves; however, when part of a group, a person tends to figure out which behavior is the most acceptable to the others, look for the expected scripted behavior, not embarrass themself by taking the lead, and defer to the norm of the group, even when the norm is dangerous.
Another lesson is that our behavior isn’t scripted by the conscious mind. Instead, behavior is mostly governed by the subconscious mind. If we lack the self-awareness and knowledge of how we choose our behavior, the more likely it is that we will mimic those around us, parrot what everyone else is talking about, and go along with anything just to get along, even at the risk of our own lives.
Today we are witnessing a dangerous manifestation of this. Heavily influenced by 24-hour news and social media culture, masses of people are frozen in the face of overwhelming pressure to conform, forgoing consideration of their own health, wellness and personal conviction, and refusing to object to ever greater control measures. Many of the ideas to approach our current situation don’t make rational sense, and will certainly create ever-growing dangers for ourselves, however, not wanting to suffer the embarrassment of taking action, so many fail to react to the greater dangers being presented and move toward conformity with the herd.
This concept is twisted even further when you mix in the presence of authority, as demonstrated by Phillip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment conducted in 1971. Zimbardo’s experiment showed us just how quickly and easily people will conform to the roles of master and subject.
In 1963, Stanley Milgram’s also famous social psychology research showed how a uniform as benign as a lab coat and a clipboard is enough to create a sense of authority amongst others, and that people will consciously physically harm others just because an authority figure instructed them to do so.
This has disturbing echoes in today’s world where all of a sudden so many people feel compelled to demand what medicines another takes, and some even support the idea of severely restricting the freedoms of those who do not conform.
Constantly scanning the environment for clues on how to best fit into its tribe, the aim of the subconscious mind is to be a non-threat to others and to adopt the average behavior of those around. This means that an individual can be compelled to act against his/her own interests in the subconcious’ drive to seek security within its tribe.
At the personal level, manifestations of subconsciously following dangerous herd behavior include all forms of self-sabotage and self attack. Commonly, these take form as poor eating and spending habits, the deterioration of the physical body, dependence on a dangerous medical establishment for health, and deference to psychiatry for mental wellness.
So many people are living as their lesser selves today, constantly pulled down by the average behavior of a sick and dysfunctional tribe. The most fulfilling lives are those self-directed by our own creativity and our own ambition, and though you may honestly desire to self-actualize into your most powerful self, unless you are aware of how your unconscious mind influences you and pits you against yourself for its own survival, you’re going to have a hard time overcoming the incredible influence of nature.
In my personal practice as a self-sabotage and self-mastery coach I guide my clients through a process of reflection and self-discovery which reveals to them their most repressed life goals and dreams, show them which path will take them there, and clears out that path by identifying and neutralizing all of the self-sabotaging behavior standing in their way. Find out more about that, here. Sign up to my personal newsletter, here. Follow me on Telegram, here.
Dylan Charles is a self-mastery coach, the editor of Waking Times and host of the Battered Souls podcast. His personal journey is deeply inspired by shamanic plant medicines and the arts of Kung Fu, Qi Gong and Yoga. After seven years of living in Costa Rica, he now lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where he practices Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and enjoys spending time with family. He has written hundreds of articles, reaching and inspiring millions of people around the world. Follow Dylan on telegram here, and sign up for his weekly newsletter here.
Dylan is available for interviews and podcasts. Contact him at [email protected].
This article (When Your Life is at Stake by Following the Herd) was originally created and published by Waking Times and is published here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Dylan Charles and WakingTimes.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this copyright statement.