March 10, 2016
You’ve probably been waiting for a flight at an airport and watched a person get up, walk over to the gate with his boarding pass and stand by the checkpoint. He was not prompted to do so by an announcement, nothing changed on the flight board and no employee had beckoned the public forward. He was just ready to get moving.
But within 60 seconds, a line of people formed behind him. You can almost feel the anxiety in the air as frazzled travelers put away their iPhones, get their carry-ons together and rush to get in line.
Traveling can be an anxious experience for a number of reasons. And in that environment, it turns out that we’re more likely to pay attention to stimuli around us. So when we see someone stand up and wait by the door to board the plane, we think, “Hey, maybe we should do that, too.” And when we see just about everyone in the waiting area get in line behind him, we think, “We should definitely do that, too.”
A paper in a recent issue of The Journal of Current Biology sheds light on what’s happening in our brains during these situations. The study’s principal investigator, Rony Paz of the Weizmann Institute of Science, explained, “Our study suggests that people with anxiety cannot discriminate, at the most basic level, between stimuli that have an emotional content and similar mundane or daily stimuli.”
Lisa Rapaport reviewed the study, titled “Behavioral and Neural Mechanisms of Overgeneralization in Anxiety,” in Reuters Health. She wrote, “With anxiety, people had more activity visible in the amygdala, a brain region tied to fear … and also in primary sensory regions of the brain. … This in turn might explain the anxious response that they exhibit to scenarios that seem regular, normal or non-emotional to anyone else [such as waiting at an airport].”
Dr. Damiaan Denys, a psychiatry researcher at the University of Amsterdam added, “If you’re anxious, you’re hardly to blame. … It is not a choice or a lack of free willpower … anxiety is a disease, not a voluntary way of perceiving the world.”
When we’re anxious and uncertain, we herd. And not just at the airport, but in our investment decisions, our urge to accept or reject leaders, our willingness to take on and retire debt, and dozens of other situations. Socionomics explains how unconscious social mood drives the tenor and character of the herd’s actions across society.
If you look closely, you can see patterns in social mood that help you predict social behaviors. To learn more about our flagship publication, The Socionomist, Click here >>
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