I'm wanting to read more about a certain human behavior, but I am not sure what the proper term for it is, so some of the things I am finding aren't what I am looking for. I'm interested in how Humans will often "follow the leader" and act as sheep, believing what they're told without applying much critical thinking. I thought this was called Herd Mentality, but Wikipedia describes that as:

Herd mentality implies a fear-based reaction to peer pressure which makes individuals act in order to avoid feeling "left behind" from the group

That is close to what I am thinking about. However Wikipedia relates Herd Mentality to Group intelligence and Wisdom of the crowd... which is ironic as those are the exact opposite of what I am looking for.

Examples of the behavior I am thinking of:

  • Sometimes high-rep users on Stack Exchange sites post poor questions or answers. Often these get upvotes even though they're incorrect, because people "follow the leader" and don't think about the actual answer.
  • Religious leaders often influence their congregations on how to vote, and many members will vote that way even though what they're voting for may not really be what they believe it because they don't think about what they're voting for so they don't realize it.
  • As an extreme example: Many good, moral people somehow shut off their ability to think logically and supported Hitler and the Holocaust.

What is the name for Human's tendency to follow a leader blindly, without thinking? Is this an actual psychological phenomenon and if so, what papers could I read to learn more about it?

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    $\begingroup$ A person's tendency to react to a situation depends on a Threshold Value(TV) of the number of people he wants to see reacting before reacting himself and it may not be entirely proportional to intelligence. So if there are 10 people and if 3 people wear purple hats, I may also wear the hat if my TV is 3 but if my TV is 4, I would wait for an another person to wear the hat before wearing it myself. The Granovetter model could explain some of this phenomenon. Also, the bandwagon effect may also explain this phenomenon in political decisions. $\endgroup$
    – Ubermensch
    Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 12:32
  • $\begingroup$ Few other terms that explain the causes mentioned by you - GroupThink, socio-centric thinking, Ingroup bias. I prefer socio-centric thinking. $\endgroup$
    – Ubermensch
    Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 12:35
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    $\begingroup$ Relevant terms that come to mind include conformity, obedience, propaganda, and even leadership. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 12:41
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    $\begingroup$ But leadership is used in a more positive term. @JoshGitlin The Wikipedia article is so small. The possible term is Herd instinct/Herd behavior and its a recognized cognitive bias. $\endgroup$
    – Ubermensch
    Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 12:42
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    $\begingroup$ Read somewhere 'herd instict'. I think is is most close to the term discussed here. $\endgroup$
    – user10806
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 19:49

3 Answers 3



The most famous paper dealing with this issue is Milgram's paper, called Behavioral study of obedience[1]. From the abstract:

This article describes a procedure for the study of destructive obedience in the laboratory. It consists of ordering a naive subject to administer increasingly more severe punishment to a victim in the context of a learning experiment.

[1] Behavioral Study of obedience, Milgram, S. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1963. doi: 10.1037/h0040525 PDF link

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Hmmmm... Obedience has far too positive a connotation to it in my mind, but technically it is what I am asking about. Maybe "Blind Obedience" is a better term for what I am describing. That paper looks interesting, I'll read it and comment back! $\endgroup$
    – Josh
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 12:55
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    $\begingroup$ Obedience is a form of the word "obey" in the title. It doesn't take into account the "without thinking" aspect. I don't know if any English word does. $\endgroup$
    – John Pick
    Commented Jul 23, 2012 at 20:03
  • $\begingroup$ This question and the answers have received a lot of attention and upvotes which is great :-) You may wish to have a look at this video which talks about obedience (offically referred to as conformity) within conformity experiments such as the milgram experiment and the Stanford Prison Experiment. There is also my answer to this question along with this answer which covers darker sides of conformity such as Naziism and the KKK $\endgroup$ Commented May 7, 2018 at 10:29

Could you be talking about conformity:

e.g., http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conformity


groupthink http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groupthink ?

In addition to the famous Milgram studies which you may have already heard about:


There's quite a lengthy literature on these issues but those links should get you started.


I would say 'Herd mentality' or 'Conformity' comes close.

Yet, I think it is important to note that 'thinking logical' is a pretty ambiguous term in itself. Everybody has their own image of what is logical and what is not, but that image is mainly formed by what others tell you what's 'normal'. People's opinions and actions are much less based on logic than you might think.

For example, Solomon Asch's experiments found that 74% of their tested individuals would choose an obviously incorrect answer if a group (3 or more people) would choose that incorrect answer as well. And this was the case in something simple like matching the length of some sticks. Imagine what could happen when we are confronted with more complex choices.

So befóre you take any action, you look around to see what others think or do, and it might very well be that you will do what they do because it seems more 'logical' that yóu make an error in reasoning than that áll the others made a mistake in their reasoning.

Second, áfter the fact, people have a great tendency to justify everything they have done as if it was a good thing. This is caused by what we call 'cognitive dissonance' (Festinger, 1957), or the tendency to preserve a stable, positive self-image.

E.g. once somebody has murdered somebody he has two choices: regret or justify himself by saying the person deserved it etc. Justifying yourself is often a lot easier than feeling regret, even more so when your social environment (e.g. the Nazi party) steers you towards justification rather than towards regret. And that again paves the road for identical actions in the future.

As for the answers on SE, I'm not sure if that has to do with Conformity (it is not as if other people see that you upvote or downvote an answer), but it might be based on wanting to stimulate the pro users into keep giving great answers (even though that one particular answer might be worse than usual) or wanting to stimulate the pro user into improving his answer, because you know he can produce great answers, because you know he did that in the past.

  • $\begingroup$ @Chris I see your point (and can understand if you would not upvote), but I would appreciate if you wouldn't downvote either unless the answer is actually wrong. $\endgroup$ Commented May 7, 2018 at 8:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Chris Makes sense. I added two sources. If you need more clarification, let me know. $\endgroup$ Commented May 7, 2018 at 8:50
  • $\begingroup$ +1 for a helpful contribution although the conformity answers talk about conforming to authority or society as a whole $\endgroup$ Commented May 7, 2018 at 9:17

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