Charles Darwin once said there is no fundamental differnence between man and the higher animals – the difference being one of degree and not of kind. He cited examples of cognitive traits that both humans and animals displayed – curiosity, long-term memory, to reason. He also stated that any animal that could not learn will become extinct due to natural selection – therefore, the gene pool will contain only the intelligent genes.
Most would argue however that that there is a big difference between animal and human intelligence and that, arguably, human have superior brains. One of the key differences is that while we don’t possess the largest mammalian brain, we have the highest brain mass relative to body mass. Another difference is the laterlisation of the brain’s functions. The “left brain” controls rational,verbal, analytical, and perceptive thinking. The “right brain” enables creative thinking. Both functions are combined by the human brain to enable us to act out complex actions or sequence of action – behavior.
In terms of cognition human and animal cognition differ in the following key areas:
- The ability to combine/recombine various types of knowledge and information to gain new understanding
- The ability to generalise – apply a guideline or solution of an identified problem to a new and different situation
- The ability to make symbolic representations of sensory stimuli and to easily interpret/understand them
- The ability to detach raw sensory and perceptual input from modes of thought.
The Power of Choice
Another feature that distinguishes us from animals is free will – the power of choice. Choice is a tool wich can elevate us to the heights of heroism or take us into the deepest pits of poverty and despair. Choice can bring us further or closer to our dreams. We make choices every day Do I sleep early tonight or do I stay up and finish watching a movie? Do I get ready for work or call in sick? Do I finish the most important tasks or do I goof off? Each of those choices can point us to the road of success or mediocrity. What’s worse is when we go for broke and just say – bahala na. Not the bahala na which is fear that has said its prayer – rather the bahala na which makes us behave like rudderless rafts, destination unknown. It need not be that way, the boat has a rudder which can take us to the shores of prosperity – the rudder is called choice. We become the captains of our ship when we use the power of choice.
Begin From the End
It all boils down to one thing – what do we really want? Ika nga “Begin with the end in sight” – a direction to guide our choices, without which we will accomplish nothing at all. This is the beginning of the process of taking control of our own lives – this is part of the process of personal leadership. Supposedly, all things are created two times. First, we create them in our minds. Second, we work to bring our ideas into physical existence. By taking control of the act of creation, we control the second act – the outcome.
In a similar manner, the choices we make in an election- when aggregated, can make the difference between a lean and mean government versus an incompetent gridlocked government. What has been the Philippines track record thus far? – Asia’s Laggard, Sick Man of Asia, Nation of Servants, One of the Most Corrupt in ASEAN, Most Dangerous Country for Journalists. The Philippines couldn’t have gotten a bad rap if the aggregate of our choices swayed towards something “nice” – the reality is, it isn’t.. If the aggregate of our choices does not paint a nice picture, that means a lot of us wouldn’t make it to Santa’s list this Christmas.
What Influences Choice?
There are many influences – but in the light of the current election, I will zero in on the behavior where we can not distinguish between herds of animals and herds of people – the herd mentality and the bandwagon effect.. Consider this new findings from the University of Leeds:
New research study sheds light on a behavior that is consistent among many species – that is, making decisions based upon the actions of others.Scientists at the University of Leeds believe they may have found why humans flock like sheep and birds, subconsciously following a minority of individuals.
Researchers discovered that it takes a minority of just five per cent to influence a crowd’s direction – and that the other 95 per cent follow without realizing it.
The findings could have major implications for directing the flow of large crowds, in particular in disaster scenarios, where verbal communication may be difficult.
“There are many situations where this information could be used to good effect,” says Professor Jens Krause of the University’s Faculty of Biological Sciences.
“At one extreme, it could be used to inform emergency planning strategies and at the other, it could be useful in organising pedestrian flow in busy areas.”
Professor Krause, with PhD student John Dyer, conducted a series of experiments where groups of people were asked to walk randomly around a large hall. Within the group, a select few received more detailed information about where to walk. Participants were not allowed to communicate with one another but had to stay within arms length of another person.
The findings show that in all cases, the ‘informed individuals’ were followed by others in the crowd, forming a self-organizing, snake-like structure.
“We’ve all been in situations where we get swept along by the crowd,” says Professor Krause. “But what’s interesting about this research is that our participants ended up making a consensus decision despite the fact that they weren’t allowed to talk or gesture to one another. In most cases the participants didn’t realize they were being led by others.”
Other experiments in the study used groups of different sizes, with different ratios of ‘informed individuals’. The research findings show that as the number of people in a crowd increases, the number of informed individuals decreases. In large crowds of 200 or more, five per cent of the group is enough to influence the direction in which it travels.
The research also looked at different scenarios for the location of the ‘informed individuals’ to determine whether where they were located had a bearing on the time it took for the crowd to follow.
“We initially started looking at consensus decision making in humans because we were interested in animal migration, particularly birds, where it can be difficult to identify the leaders of a flock,” says Professor Krause. “But it just goes to show that there are strong parallels between animal grouping behavior and human crowds.”
The paper relating to this research, entitled Consensus decision making in human crowds is published in the current issue of Animal Behavior Journal.
Another study also shows that the human brain is hardwired to follow the crowd.
New research reveals the brain activity that underlies our tendency to “follow the crowd.”The study, published by Cell Press in the the journal Neuron, provides intriguing insight into how human behavior can be guided by the perceived behavior of other individuals.
Many studies have demonstrated the profound effect of group opinion on individual judgments, and there is no doubt that we look to the behavior and judgment of others for information about what will be considered expected and acceptable behavior.
“We often change our decisions and judgments to conform with normative group behavior,” says lead study author Dr. Vasily Klucharev from the F.C. Donders Center for Cognitive Neuroimaging in The Netherlands. “However, the neural mechanisms of social conformity remain unclear.”
Dr. Klucharev and colleagues hypothesized that social conformity might be based on reinforcement learning and that a conflict with group opinion could trigger a “prediction error” signal.
A prediction error, first identified in reinforcement learning models, is a difference between expected and obtained outcomes that is thought to signal the need for a behavioral adjustment.
The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine brain activity in subjects whose initial judgments of facial attractiveness were open to influence by group opinion.
Specifically, they examined the rostral cingulate zone (RCZ) and the nucleus accumbens (NAc). The RCZ is thought to play a role in monitoring behavioral outcomes, and the NAc has been implicated in the anticipation and processing of rewards as well as social learning.
The study authors found that a conflict with the group opinion triggered a long-term conforming adjustment of an individual’s own rating and that conflict with the group elicited a neuronal response in the RCZ and NAc similar to a prediction error signal.
Further, the magnitude of the individual conflict-related signal in the NAc correlated with differences in conforming behavior across subjects.
“The present study explains why we often automatically adjust our opinion in line with the majority opinion,” says Dr. Klucharev.
“Our results also show that social conformity is based on mechanisms that comply with reinforcement learning and is reinforced by the neural error-monitoring activity which signals what is probably the most fundamental social mistake—that of being too different from others.”
What are the implications of these natural tendencies? These implies that we have a natural tendency to follow the crowd and we take the cue from those whom we think are “well-informed”? The question is – what if the well-informed are mis-informed? For example if a boss in the office said, o dito kay Juan Tamban, those down the line who consider the boss as well informed and will echo the boss. Juan Tamban in turn will tell his wife, his maid, his in-laws – and so on and so forth. Before you know it you have a herd.
One aspect of herd behavior it is not completely interested in protection of the group. Its primary motivator is self-interest. Herd animals that fear a predator work to get into the center of the herd so they are less vulnerable, just as people were thinking only of their interest during the wowowee stampede.
Conforming – For the “Greater Good”
Wikipedia describes conformism as
“a term used to describe the suspension of an individual’s self-determined actions or opinions in favour of obedience to the mandates or conventions of one’s peer-group, or deference to the imposed norms of a supervening authority.
One manifestation of conformism emerges in the practice of “going along and getting along” with people who appear to be more powerful. Conformism holds that individuals and small groups do best by blending in with their surroundings and by doing nothing eccentric or out-of-the-ordinary in any way.
By definition, conformism presents the antithesis both of creativity and of innovative leadership, and hence opposes change and/or progress itself. Authoritarian institutions (such as military organizations) tend to glorify and reinforce conformism within their ranks, as do many large corporations.
One view of innovation stresses the importance of outward or grand-scale conformism. Since open and extreme rebels get incarcerated or killed, according to this theory, effective change may require minor, incremental acts of a non-conforming nature.“
Using the ingredients of people’s natural tendency to follow the crowd and pressure to conform, continuous iteration leads to a tipping point when a bandwagon effect is reached. People do and believe things merely because other people do and believe the same things. The effect is called herd instinct.. People tend to follow the crowd without examining the merits of a particular proposition. The bandwagon effect is the culprit behind the bandwagon fallacy’s success.
When the bandwagon achieves a critical mass it is able to effect change that affects everyone – including those who disagree with the bandwagon’s proposition on the grounds that it is not a well thought-of option. Add a dash of culture of impunity, suppression of dissent, an air of entitlement – voila, the Philippine ochlocracy!
What is an ochlocracy?
To answer that, let’s refer to the history:
In ancient Greek political thought ochlocracy was considered as one of the three “bad” forms of government (tyranny, oligarchy and ochlocracy) as opposed to the three “good” forms of government (monarchy, aristocracy and democracy). The distinction between “good” and “bad” was made according to whether the government form would act in the interest of the whole community (“good”) or special interests (“bad”).
An ochlocrat is one who is an advocate or partisan of ochlocracy. It can also be used as an adjective (ochlocratic or ochlocratical).
Whether or not the decisions enforced by a mob are good or bad is another matter entirely. The threat of mob rule (not unlike the term tyranny of the majority) is often invoked -often rhetorically- against a democracy by those who oppose its majoritary decisions, sometimes fearing oppression of the needs or freedoms of minorities if democratic government is not efficiently restrained by protections given to individuals under the rule of law, sometimes concerned that demagogery may manipulate the mob and force popular currents of thought onto minority groups without respect for their or the individual’s rights. There are also some who wish to see more power assigned to a certain ruling minority.
A mob, however massive, and regardless of claims to speak for ‘the people’, may or may not be representative of the (often silent) majority in a large society (which usually practices indirect democracy). It may be composed of a specific segment of the population interested in a specific issue, and drawn from a limited geographical space or it may be a representative popular majority. (wikipedia)
It is easy to prevent an ochlocracy – but you gotta do some heavy lifting – and BE YOURSELF.
All you have to do is think rationally, weigh your options against the crowd, stand up for YOUR own well-thought-of choice – not the crowd’s choice.
Do not choose out of fear of Arroyo, choose out of love for a smooth functioning egalitarian government – go for the best, don’t settle for less – or you’ll be a man staring at kambeng – or worse, someone no different from a kambeng.
As far as bandwagons go, I am guilty of being a fan of Russell Peters –