Herd behavior refers to the behavior of groups of individuals who act together without any planning or informed direction. Individuals often follow the group and try to fall in line with the opinion and behavior of the crowd. This human behavior leads to them being compared to the herd behavior of animals. Herd behavior, also called as herd mentality or herd instinct, is a widespread tendency of people to do or behave as the crowds do. Herd behavior may take various forms such as mimicry of the group, conforming to peer pressure, showing obedience to seniors, leaders or expert.
The term herd behavior originates from the behavior of animals in herds, groups and flocks. The herd behavior in animals is predominantly seen when a group of animals flee from a predator. According to the biologist W.D. Hamilton, each member of the herd moves to the centre of the fleeing herd with the hope of reducing its own danger. Thus though the herd appears to be moving together as a unit, it is only motivated by the needs of each self-serving individual. Seen in this light, herd behavior is basically uncoordinated behavior in an unplanned direction.
Individuals become part of a group and resort to herd behavior when they feel they cannot voice their opinions alone. In this way, an individual feels more secure by being part of a group as in the case of animals moving in herds as a precaution against predators. The cause of herd behavior may have its roots in the man’s social conditioning to mimic the behavior of the herd. By nature, man finds it easy to conform rather than being labeled as a dissenter. Man is mentally conditioned to fall in line with the general opinion of the group which also saves them the pain of any rejection and doubt.
Herd behavior is common in activities such as street demonstrations, stock market investments and crashes, sporting events, mob violence and religious gatherings. Besides, herd behavior is visible in everyday human activities relating to judgment, taking decisions and forming opinions. Herd behavior is commonly found in financial markets where herding leads to extreme price moves as seen in bubbles and crashes
Herd behavior in humans may be efficient in some ways when some amount of social cohesion can be achieved through group conformity. However in many instances herd behavior may have disastrous consequences when groups can go wrong and the individual tends to lose his independence. In the absence of an exchange of individual views and opinions, there is every chance for the group to commit collective blunders. When the herd behavior is spurred by emotions it can lead to hysterical behaviors as seen in mob violence or violent group demonstrations. When an individual indulges in herd behavior he almost loses his mental independence to fit in a social group and may perform irresponsible actions by mimicking the group.