While teaching a beginning violin student, I had placed thin white tapes along the violin’s fingerboard, which was black, indicating where he should put his fingers. His fingers were to be placed in a specific way, training the muscles to know how to land, and where to land, so he would learn to play in tune. During one lesson, while I was holding his violin, I put my finger correctly on a tape and asked him, “Is my finger on the tape?” This was almost a rhetorical question; I was expecting an easy “Yes” in response, upon which I would proceed with whatever it was I was going to explain next. However, he answered, “Yeeesss…??” At that point, I realized that we needed to pause the violin lesson and have a life’s lesson….

Just a few days prior, I had been listening to a couple of audio books1,2 where the phenomenon of the “bandwagon effect” was being discussed. This phenomenon is one in a long list of what are known as “cognitive biases.” A cognitive bias is an unconscious, “systematic error in thinking that… affects the decisions and judgments”3 people make.

A common cognitive bias is “confirmation bias”4 where people tend to only look for and thus “find” “facts” that confirm, or agree with, what they already think. Another common cognitive bias is “group attributional error”5 where we attribute to a group the characteristics that we see in one member of the group, or vice versa – that the decisions/opinions of a group are shared equally by all members of the group.

In the bandwagon effect, people are far more prone to agree with something that is incorrect if those around them also agree with it. An example of this is illustrated in a famous study 6,7 where participants were shown a series of lines of various lengths and were told to match those lines that were the same length. Unbeknownst to some of those in the study, the participants also included people who were part of the research team. If some of the research team members insisted that lines of obviously different lengths matched, many of the other participants went along with that clearly incorrect assessment. On average, this occurred between 20 and 40% of the time, and sometimes occurring as high as 75% of the time! 8 This occurred even when none of the participants knew each other, would never see each other again, and thus should not have cared “what people thought about them.” However, if the participants matched the lines while they were alone, these errors rarely occurred.

Similar conformity studies have been expanded and replicated, with comparable results, over 130 times in 17 countries.9 (For an enlightening and entertaining in-depth review of this phenomenon, see Chapter 3, Following the Herd, in Thaler and Sunstein’s Nudge: The Final Edition.) The band wagon effect can also be labeled as peer pressure and groupthink.

We find executives involved in fraudulent business schemes, with those around them turning a blind eye to the mounting evidence of fraud, and rationalizing deceptive business practices until the collapse finally comes.12,13

Do we find examples of this in the scriptures? Of course! “

The more we understand and are aware of cognitive biases, especially the bandwagon effect, the better equipped we will be to reduce their negative effects in our lives and the lives of those around us.

I am fully aware that visual distortions exist, such as trick photography, optical illusions, and special effects. The situation with my student was none of those. It was very clearly my finger on a white tape, on black fingerboard, that my student could distinctly see with his own eyeballs. I explained the bandwagon effect to him in simple terms, and told him that someday he would be in a situation where he could clearly see something with his own eyeballs that others around him were saying wasn’t so, and he needed to be clear and strong in sticking to what he knew to be true.

I then again put my finger on the tape and asked him, “Is my finger on the tape?” To which he responded with a resounding, “YES!”

Life’s lessons from a violin lesson, indeed….


1 List, J. A. (2022). The voltage effect: How to make good ideas great and great ideas scale. Currency. 2 Thaler, R. H., & Sunstein, C. R. (2022). Nudge: The final edition. Penguin Books
3 Cherry, K. (2022, November 7). How cognitive biases influence how you think and Act. Verywell Mind.

Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-a-cognitive-bias-

4 Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. Farrar, Straus and Goroux.
5 McClurg, J. (2020, October 1). Group attribution error – the most pervasive and potentially

consequential threat of our day. Security Magazine RSS. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://www.securitymagazine.com/articles/93517-group-attribution-error-the-most-pervasive-and- potentially-consequential-threat-of-our-day

6 Asch, S. E. (1955). Opinions and Social Pressure. Scientific American, 193(5), 31–35. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24943779
7 McLeod, S. (2008). Asch experiment. Simply Psychology.
8 Thaler, R. H., & Sunstein, C. R. (2022). Nudge: The final edition. Penguin Books

9 Thaler, R. H., & Sunstein, C. R. (2022). Nudge: The final edition. Penguin Books

10 Jones, S. (2022, February 7). RNC blasted for seeming to describe January 6 as ‘legitimate political discourse’. CNSNews.com. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://cnsnews.com/article/washington/susan-jones/rnc-blasted-seeming-describe-january-6- legitimate-political

11 Haltiwanger, J. (2022, February 4). GOP accused of ‘declaring war on democracy’ after calling the deadly January 6 riot ‘legitimate political discourse’. Business Insider. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://www.businessinsider.com/democrats-rip-into-gop-for-calling-january-6-legitimate- political-discourse-2022-2

12 Bondarenko, P. (2016, February 5). Enron scandal. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/event/Enron-scandal

13 George, B. (2021, August 11). Fraudulent accounting and the downfall of Worldcom. Audit & Advisory Services. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://www.sc.edu/about/offices_and_divisions/audit_and_advisory_services/about/news/2021/wor ldcom_scandal.php

14 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/bofm/2-ne/15?lang=eng
15 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/bofm/moro/7?lang=eng&id=14,18#p14 16 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/bofm/alma/30?lang=eng
17 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/bofm/hel/7?lang=eng