The evolution of conformity (sort of)
Turn in your research papers, but staple your rubric to them, first, the teacher tells us cheerfully. All 30 of us haul our sleep-deprived (lets be real, we were all working on our papers last night) bodies from our desks. All 30 of us stand in a single file line, waiting to use the stapler that the teacher placed on her desk.
Two feet away, there are three perfectly usable staplers, wallowing in their disuse and solitude. I make my way from the back of the line to these staplers, quickly use them, and turn in my paper. Those staplers work, I say, passing several other students waiting in the line. I am met with blank looks as they shuffle forward, still waiting to use the single stapler on the teachers desk.
Oddly enough, this happens in a surprising amount of classes, and I am utterly confused by it. Yes, I am awfully impatient about waiting and I actively avoid standing in lines, but I still didnt understand the logic behind waiting in a 30-person line when one could easily bypass it.
A possible explanation: herd mentality. I had heard about it in U.S. History last year, when we learned about the Great Bison Slaughter that occurred at the end of the 19th century. Slaughtering bison had become a sport in the Great Plains, and hunters used the bisons herd mentality to their advantage. They picked out the leader of the herd and killed him. The bison would no longer have an alpha-male to follow. They would stand in one place and bleat pitifully, awaiting their imminent death.
Pat Thomas, the curator at the Bronx Zoo in New York, defines herd mentality as the idea that individual members of a herd relate and behave in a similar fashion. The purpose behind it, he says, is so that they dont stand out to potential predators.
Fear drives herd mentality. Fear makes antelope run in tight herds when a lioness is chasing them down, fear makes people huddle together during horror films, fear makes Wall Street investors buy and sell before theyve had time to think.
We are mammals, just like the wildebeest in the plains of the African Savannah, said Andrew Lo, a researcher at MIT studying emotions and economics. Once the fear sets in, our mammalian brain, or the instinctual portion of our brain, especially the amygdala (which triggers the fear response), kicks into high gear. And because a million years ago fear meant a life-threatening situation, our herd mentality kicks in.
Perhaps herd mentality plays a role in high school life. Maybe this is the true response to the statements, All teenagers act the same, You all dress the same, the sweeping generalizations. This might just be an explanation for why we hop on bandwagons and conform to one another. We are simply huddling together to protect one another. But does that mean we live lives of fear? Probably.
Anisha Adke is a senior at Lakeridge High School, and she writes a monthly column for the Review. She can be reached at email@example.com.JW_DISQUS_ADD_A_COMMENT