Herd Behavior in People

Understanding Herd Behavior in People

I found this in a document that I had filed under add to web site. I am not sure where I found it or where the source is, so I cannot reference the source, so if anyone knows where this is please let me know. I have modified and added things to help relate it to horses. The basic definition of Herd Behavior is spelled out well here. Understanding this will help you to better understand where a horse comes from and how they see the world and how their reactions are instinctual and by design, not by some freak or accident.

If you’ve ever watched a nature show about herding animals, you may have seen what a stampede looks like, that sudden chaotic movement when a herd of animals panics, normally from fear and begins to break in every direction. Stampedes are not planned events, but they tend to affect the entire herd, and they can lead to disastrous results such as animals injured or trapped. A stampede may also have positive or beneficial results, like most of the animals escaping a predator, a baby being saved by confusing the predator or the predator gets hurt, all of which protects the herd’s survival.

These unplanned incidents and sometimes violent acts are called "herd behavior, and the term has been applied to many aspects of human culture. Though we may think we are individuals, groups of people may act in concert, especially in situations that leave little time for decision-making (fear or panic). Like the herd stampeding, herd behavior in humans may have negative or positive consequences.

The term herd behavior as it applies to humans first appears in Dr. Wilfred Trotter’s 1914 book Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War. It wasn’t exactly a new idea, though Trotter can be credited with the phrase. Sigmund Freud, for instance, extensively discusses his ideas of crowd psychology, and Carl Jung suggests that such psychology is the result of universal or collective unconscious. If you have read my article on the Horse learning model (see my articles page), you will see how conscious and unconscious behavior leads to thinking and reacting behavior which reactionary behavior is considered instinctual, unless it is learned or taught.

You may see many examples of herd behavior in economics. For instance, if a few people begin to sell a certain type of stock, it may lead to a mass selling spree, panic, and leave the market open to crashing. Similarly, you might look at the behavior in the retail environment on day after Thanksgiving sales (known as Black Friday). People have been injured in attempting to get to a special item offered at a very good price, when the doors of a store opens and the crowd stampedes in. Such stampedes have also occurred at rock concerts with open seating, where all people try to rush to get the closest seats to the front. Remember Tickle me Elmo or Beanie Babies, people were stealing, waiting in line and fighting over these items. These have occasionally had tragic results. Other areas that this plays in is Gangs, people join and belong to Gangs for a sense of being, belonging, safety in numbers, to have power, feel secure and safe in their area. Teenagers and school kids will smoke to be cool or accepted, they will join band or sports or some group that enable them to belong or to be with the same type of people, where they connect or feel safe. Look at sporting events where crowds of people yell and cheer for their teams, they get protective, where the same colors and dislike and opposite team. As the crowd cheers or boo's the fans join in and mod up. In riots, people get caught up in the violence and excitement and chaotic behavior and then that attitude continues to grow and progress and soon you have a stampede.

One aspect of herd behavior that is often noted is that the herd is not completely interested in protection of the group. Instead self-interest (self-preservation) is a primary motivator. Herd animals, when they fear a predator, work to get into the center of the herd so they are less vulnerable and safer. Just as people have only self-interest in mind when they knock over others to get to a cheaply sold item, or the front seats of a rock concert; or even more so when they start selling or purchasing stocks to either make a profit or make an investment that will prove profitable in the very near future. So when horses run people down, run into a fence or injury themselves when scared or fearful, people tend to blame the horse for being stupid or unreasonable, when in fact if they look at it objectively they would see it is pretty normal behavior and can be predicted and expected.

Such things as housing prices can be determined by herd behavior and may be augmented by reports. In 2007, the Santa Rosa, California Press Democrat featured an angry letter to the editor asking them not to write anything else on the declines in the housing market. The writer was concerned that continued reports were driving the price of his own house down; in other words, he feared the herd instincts of others who would panic and try to sell before home prices dropped more, which would only lead to a drop in home prices and a flooded market. I say this a lot when I tell people that work with horses that when you try and prevent something from happening, you end up causing it to happen.

Herd behavior may be called by other names like “mob mentality.” A sudden crisis or a demonstration that gets out of order may be subject to humans “herding” into violent clashes with others. More simply a large group of people herding into a single area can produce panic and stampeding, riots, violence, and huge death tolls. This relates to safety in numbers theory, the more we stick together, the more we increase our chances of succeeding, that may be different such as success in living, success in winning, success in victory, success in power, success in advantages. Same behavior, different motivations but normally predictable actions.

There is also an innocent factor to herd behavior. People often look to others to see how to behave. Given a choice between two similar stores that are nearly empty, people almost always choose the store that has other people in it, representing desire to move with the “herd.” I call this the sheep behavior. People follow others much like sheep do and much like horses do. This internal need to be with our own kind, to feel safety in numbers, NOT to feel isolated, alone, or in solitude. Yet people still seem it is OK to lock a horse up and justify that it is not bad since they have another horse locked up next to them. Horses need a herd, they need their own kind, they need to feel safe, and they need to be able to move with the herd to feel in control of their own safety. Many reasons for horses to be together, but people, in their ignorance, continue to find reasons, excuses and justifications to lock up and isolate these beautiful herd and social animals.

Instinct is a complicated term, especially as applied to human health and wellness. In the animal world, minus human involvement, it is often easy to see that an animal species will have certain built-in factors or ways of being that cause them to act predictably in a variety of circumstances. Salmon will swim upstream to spawn at a certain time, many animals will attack anything that threatens offspring, a cornered animal will either fight, run, or play dead, and most animals have built in food-seeking behavior. Looking at this how can anyone see that locking a horse up, cornering a horse in stall, taking away the ability of a horse to flee or run, only leaves one option. And horse do NOT play dead.

In humans, it is often suggested that modern technology makes people less in touch with their instinctual selves, and that they may be unhappy due to the fact that they are instinct driven or never use their instincts. What happens, for instance, to the child rearing/nurturing instinct when mom sees a baby for an hour at the end of a long workday, or how do instincts to perpetuate the species change when people use birth control? These questions do not represent a value judgment on such choices, but they may slightly change what things might be considered instinctual, or make people realize they are not acting in an “inborn” and traditional way, possibly creating discomfort. This is seen in horses when people try and "Imprint", or what many think imprinting is. This imprinting creates pressure, confusion and prevents the mother (mare horse) from teaching and bonding without human interference. Yet again, people will try and justify imprinting with myths about how it makes a horse safer or friendly or calmer, all wrong and does the Exact opposite of what it tries to do.

Here is a link to more proof and studies about how Imprinting is Bad.

There are also questions as to what things are truly human instincts or what are people’s inborn traits. There are a few examples commonly cited including instinct to survive, maternal instinct, and fight/flight response. Others do exist, but they may be difficult to argue as fully instinctual. In horses these instinct are much more pervasive and strong. Horse are prey animals, they are meat, they know that other animals hunt, kill and eat them, they do not have to be taught this, they are born with this extremely strong will to live and run.

Some people even argue about whether survival is an inborn trait. It is certainly not present to great degree in newborns, young children and even teenagers. People will do things like habitually eat, find a warm place to sleep and possibly fight if they’re threatened, but behavior of kids seems to be pose a constant and drawn-out exploration of the world that threatens survival continuously. This goes back to precocial species, which humans are not and horse are. Precocial Species are born more developed and know and are able to run, fly or flee for survival.

The opposite of Precocial is Altricial. So humans are not Precocial but are Altricial species.

From the moment the baby puts the penny in his mouth and tries to choke on it to the instant when a teen drives off too quickly in a car, survival is continually being risked. Moreover, how does the firefighter run into the burning building to rescue others instead of keeping away from it, and why do instincts like hunger/survival lead to overeating that may shorten life? There is also a good argument to be made that collective behavior of the human species tends not toward survival but toward destruction of species, through support of various activities that may ultimately sharply reduce ability to produce food. People have much more complex brains than horses. They can think many steps ahead, they can predict, they can analyze, they can reason and remember a million times more than a horse. Because of this, they can ignore their instincts; they can make a conscious decision to go against their instincts since they can understand the consequences of that decision. Humans will evaluate, think, consider and can make reasonable and educated decisions, "A horse cannot do these things and to expect this from a horse just sets them up to fail.

Certainly, humans have some instincts that are considered very normal. The maternal instinct often arises when a baby is first put into the arms of the mother, and the reaction can be observed chemically by looking at increases in hormones. This does not always occur and conditions like post-partum depression may interfere with normal hormonal increases, changing mother/child interaction, unless a woman gets assistance. When the reaction is “as normal”, strong protective feelings for the child can flood the mother and many describe this as feeling a love that is very strong and intense, knowing that there is little they would not do to protect the child. Yet again, people want a horse to ignore this instinct and when a mother horse bits or kicks a person to protect their foal, they are labeled mean, aggressive, or bad moms. So many misconceptions with horse but since it is so wide spread, many think it is right and normal to blame a horse for being a horse.

The child instinctively needs the mother too, and in fact, without a consistent caregiver child development may dramatically decrease, and infant death can sometimes occur. Even when children’s needs are physically met, without a single caregiver and a infant/caretaker bond, anaclitic depression can develop, resulting in huge losses developmentally and sometimes in mental conditions like attachment disorder. This scenario has been observed repeatedly in orphanages and in hospital settings, suggesting strong social instinct in the newborn. Can anyone imagine if a horse came over and took a child from a mother to teach it to be with horses, can any of the "so called women experts that promote this" begin to understand how tough it is for a horse to allow a predator around their baby and not try and protect them? To me it is so clear, yet mainly women are the ones that promote this bonding and imprinting crap that is dominating the horse world. I would expect another mom to understand this, yet this very primal instinct is ignore and horse are made and forced to give up this right or get beat, blamed or labeled horrible names. Blaming, labeling and calling horse’s names predict their future both positive and negative. Which is why today there are so many horses with a past and no future.

Another observable human instinct is fight/flight reactions. In situations that are perceived to be dangerous, people may have huge increases in adrenaline that cause them to either rise to the danger and fight it, physically or otherwise, or quickly flee the scene. This can malfunction in humans too, and people with panic disorder may have an overly activated system that signals fight/flight response when no danger is present. In all people, danger may be real or perceived to be real, and it could be physical or theoretical. Much like horses can think a plastic bag is going to eat or harm him, when in fact a human can know that it is no danger. What people need to realize is it does not matter what we think or know, to the horse, a perceived threat is just as deadly as a real threat. Which is why sacking out, exposure, good handling and good desensitizing is what helps horses deal with real and perceived threats.

Perhaps the most difficult part about understanding human instinct is that human brains are complex and may sometimes override instinct or over express it. People seem less tied to instinctual behavior than are other animals, and centuries of philosophy and theology have been aimed at addressing the issue of whether the spirit can be stronger the flesh, with many religions certainly answering that it can. From a pragmatic and scientific standpoint, and not from a moral one, creating this intellectual divide between flesh/spirit may not be particularly healthful, since it also divides humans from what could be the most natural elements of their existence.

The fight or flight reaction, or fight or flight response was first used in the early 20th century by Walter Cannon, an American physiologist. Cannon used the term to describe animals that underwent situations, where they either had to flee or prepare to fight, in order to defend themselves from danger. Such a response can also be called hyper arousal, or a response to acute stress. According to Cannon’s descriptions, when an animal is frightened or imperiled, the sympathetic nervous system responds. This can cause dilated pupils, higher heartbeat, and extra strength shown in bursts of speed if an animal runs away or stays to attack. Some also refer to a third state “fright,” occurs when an animal doesn’t flee or fight, but panics and passes out or stands still — the typical “deer in the headlights” response or the collapse of sheep if chased by a dog. This is what people do when a horse reacts. When people are not prepared, are not ready for the unexpected, they said to black out or go into panic mode. When this happens, reaction time slows, thought process is slowed, reasoning ability is diminished and this lack of action is seen by a horse as weakness, lack of leadership and tells a horse not to trust this person in a crisis or you will die. Of course people who don't understand horses and who want to blame horses, will justify the horse's action as being stupid, spooky, herd sour, mean or dangerous and then the horse's fate is sealed.

A video of Buddy meeting a Baby Horse Kept Alone (sad):

Out on a ride and this baby colt came running over to say hi to Buddy. Keeping a rope halter on a horse in pasture unattended is not safe for a horse and can be dangerous. Here is a picture of what can happen: This is why you don't leave halters on in pasture.

This colt came over and pushed on buddy too fast which caused buddy to push back. There was a give and take and it was some play and some dominance and some submissiveness. The cold is lonely and needs herd interaction to learn. Keeping baby horses alone or "Imprinting" horses thinking humans can teach a horse better than a horse is BIG problem in the horse world and significantly contributing to all the unwanted horses and the thousands of horse shelters that are full.

Not many listen to what they don't want to hear and then they all want help and run around asking for fixes to problems that they create. All good horsemen say don't get a young horse unless you are experienced with horses. Yet every, yes mainly women, wants a young horse to raise and take care of so they can grow and learn together. When an scared and uneducated horse owner gets a young horse, the only one that learns is THE HORSE. It learns you don't know, it learns you are scared, it learns to push and intimidate people. It learns that you can't control or stop it.

Same with Imprinting crap. Oh I want a baby so I can imprint and teach it to like humans - BULLSHIT - the only think imprinting does, since it is mostly done wrong - is teach a horse that they are stronger, smarter and can push humans. WHY you ask is imprinting normally done wrong? BECAUSE IT IS ONLY DONE BY PEOPLE THAT DON'T UNDERSTAND HORSES BUT CLAIM TO LOVE HORSES.

People won't listen but I will say anyway -

DON'T get a young horse
DON'T imprint baby horses, let horses teach them
DON'T keep horses ALONE
DON'T leave horses in pasture with halters on
DON'T believe that horses give a shit if you love them - they only care what you do.

Here is Video of Buddy and Colt meeting.

Buddy and Mr. T you are good boys.

Fight or flight reaction has also been found to occur in humans during times of stress or danger. In some cases, the sympathetic nervous system causes such extreme boosts of adrenaline that people are able to do things they couldn’t under ordinary circumstances, like lift a car off an injured loved one. The fight/flight response can be extremely powerful, but it does not always work to our advantage.

People may encounter the fight or flight reaction not just in situations of perceived physical danger. They may also feel imperiled during a vocal argument. This can cause them to continue arguing, and some people may even combine physical attack if their sympathetic nervous system works overtime during any type of verbal attack. Others need to flee, and if a person really wants to get out of a verbal argument, you should not try to stop him or her, since flight can be provoked into fight, if a person can’t get away from the attack and feels cornered. This is how horses panic and hurt themselves when people lock them up, pressure them in small enclosed places, like trailers or stalls, or when they prevent a horse from running - leaving the horse only one other option.

Moreover, some people, especially those with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder, may have a fight or flight reaction for no apparent or obvious reason. The sympathetic nervous system essentially misfires, and suddenly being unable to find your keys, or something else mundane, causes a rapidly beating heart, heavy breathing, or an outright panic attack. For people with PTSD, small reminders of past traumatic events, like a smell, the temperature or being in a place familiar to where traumatic events occurred can provoke this response. For some, this can provoke aggressive behavior toward others, and yet others find themselves panicking or needing to change environments quickly.

Sometimes the flight response is not particularly overt in humans. Withdrawing from social interaction, even by watching television or surfing the net, could be viewed as a slight flight reaction when times get stressful. In studies on gender and fight or flight reaction it has been observed that men tend to become more aggressive or more withdrawn than do women under stressful situations, probably because in our culture, women tend to be more likely to lean on social resources (friends and family) to discuss their problems. This is where I get into trouble when I say why men are more successful than women with horses. When men become more aggressive, a horse sees this as leadership, strength and respect so a horse responds to this. When women tend to withdraw when confused, stressed or fearful, a horse sees this as weakness, lack of leadership and lack of respect. It has nothing to do with me being sexist or not liking women, it is a scientific fact that is not absolute, but more common than not.

In all, most people will encounter fight or flight reaction (a herd behavior) in times of stress. Though it may have once been an instinctual behavior to protect people from danger, just as it now protects many animals, it is sometimes a hassle to deal with. Being in a full hyper arousal state can lead to bowel problems, panic, argumentative mood, withdrawal, and difficulty sleeping and breathing. If this response seems to occur frequently without stimuli, like a real danger or stressful situation unfolding, it may be wise to evaluate ways to address this response with a mental health professional or with your personal physician.

By understanding why and how we, as people, as humans, as predators, do things and react and have very similar behavior traits, it will better help you to understand why a horse does the things it does. With understanding comes better communication and will hopefully prevent calling a horse names and labeling a horse with negative terms that tend to predict or cause the behavior we thing or believe we are seeing. Much like seeing a small child in run into the street and almost being killed by speeding cars. You would not call the child stupid, flighty, or crazy. You would blame the parent or care taker for not paying attention and blame them for not preventing the dangerous behavior. Yet with horses, rarely do I see people blaming the care taker or handler for what a horse does, it just seems more popular to blame the stupid horse. So remember, a horse is mirror of the person handling it, there are no stupid horses only stupid people handling the horse.

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The horse you get off of is not the same horse you got on; it is your job to make sure the change is for the better. -- Feeling down, saddle up. -- Good horses make short miles

It is never the Horse's fault! -- Rick Gore Horsemanship