Bandwagon Fallacy – Definition, Meaning & Examples

26.06.24 Fallacies Time to read: 7min

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If all of your friends used the APA style in their dissertation or thesis, would you do it too? If your answer is yes, you’ve just experienced the Bandwagon Fallacy. This logical error occurs when one adopts a belief or behavior simply because it is widely accepted or endorsed by others. If you’re interested in learning more about fallacies and how to respond to this particular one, continue reading.

Bandwagon fallacy in a nutshell

The Bandwagon fallacy describes the situation where one argues that something is true or valid because it is widely accepted or popular, without considering other evidence or logic.

Definition: Bandwagon fallacy

The Bandwagon Fallacy, is a logical fallacy where one believes that a statement must be true because it’s popular and everyone else does it too, without considering other factors such as reliable sources, logic, or rational arguments. It is also known as “argumentum ad populum,” “appeal to masses,” or “appeal to common belief.”

The Bandwagon fallacy is a type of informal fallacy, specifically a fallacy of relevance, which diverts attention away from the actual significance of the argument by focusing on its popularity instead. This fallacy is closely related to findings in conformity experiments, which demonstrate how individuals often align their beliefs and behaviors with the majority, even when they are aware of contrary evidence. Additional fallacies of relevance include the red herring fallacy and ad hominem fallacy.

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Examples of the Bandwagon fallacy

This fallacy is used to justify specific actions by appealing to the idea that because many others are doing it, it must be the correct course of action.

When Galileo Galilei proposed the heliocentric model, critics dismissed it, arguing, “Everyone knows Earth is the center of the universe. How could so many be wrong?” This bandwagon argument ignored substantial evidence in favor of popular belief, leading to Galileo’s persecution by the Catholic Church.

Other examples

  • It’s okay to use ChatGPT in your academic writing because everyone does.
  • Everyone is using social media, so it must be a crucial tool for success.
  • You should sign up for this yoga online course – everyone in our class did!

History

The name of the Bandwagon fallacy originates from the idea of jumping onto a bandwagon, which was a literal wagon used in circus parades to carry the band. The image of people jumping onto the bandwagon symbolizes the notion of following the crowd without considering the validity of the belief or action.

The fallacy gained popularity in the early 20th century, particularly in political contexts. It functions as a way to critique the tendency of individuals to support a position or candidate because it seems popular or gaining momentum. Over time, it has become a recognized concept in logic and critical thinking, illustrating the relevance of independent thought and skepticism in evaluating arguments and beliefs.

How does the Bandwagon fallacy work?

The principle behind the Bandwagon fallacy is the fact that something has to be correct or valid just because plenty of people believe it or do it. It’s like saying ‘It must be right this way because everyone else is doing it too, and if so many people do it this way, then they won’t be all wrong.’ It exploits the human tendency to follow the crowd or conform to a popular, yet incorrect statement without critically evaluating the merits of the argument or belief in question.

Instead of relying on arguments, facts, or other kinds of evidence, this fallacy implies that something must be true simply because many people do it. The acceptance occurs without asking simple questions or really thinking about whether it makes sense or not.

Similarity with other fallacies

The Bandwagon fallacy is similar to other fallacies, like the appeal to authority fallacy and appeal to emotion. In these fallacies, the arguer tries to get the other person to agree with their position or argument through a strategy of persuasion rather than objective reasoning. For instance, the appeal to emotion fallacy claims that emotions, rather than logic or evidence, should dictate one’s belief or actions.

It also has some similarities with the circular reasoning fallacy and the straw man fallacy. All three fallacies detract from rational and logical discourse by shifting the focus away from valid arguments and towards incorrect reasoning, used in casual conversations, political rhetoric, advertising, or media. These fallacies reflect their effectiveness in influencing opinions and decisions, irrespective of the truth or logic.

Furthermore, in some cases, it is similar to the hasty generalization fallacy, which occurs when someone draws a broad conclusion based on a small, inadequate, or unrepresentative sample of data.

Example 

Everyone is using essential oils these days; they must be incredibly effective in treating all sorts of medical issues.

In this example, the first clause presents a Bandwagon argument which implies, that everyone is using essential oils nowadays. However, the second phrase after the semicolon is in this case the hasty generalization, as it suggests that they are effective in every kind of medical issues, without relying on any evidence.

Psychology behind the bandwagon fallacy

There is not one single reason, but rather a combination of different circumstances which eventually lead to the Bandwagon fallacy. It is a psychological phenomenon where individuals adopt behaviors or beliefs simply because many other people are doing the same. Here’s a brief overview of the psychology behind this fallacy, to find out why people are using it:

Fear of missing out (FOMO)

The fear of missing out (short: FOMO) occurs when people worry that other people might be having fun or doing something interesting without them. It’s the type of feeling that you get when you see your friends posting fun photos from a situation where you would like to be, too. This can, but does not necessarily have to, be the reason behind why one uses this fallacy.

Cognitive laziness

Sometimes, evaluating information and developing independent judgments can be cognitively demanding. It is easier to simply believe and agree with people who have already endorsed a belief or action, rather than critically analyze the situation.

Social proof

Humans are inherently social creatures, and they often look to others when deciding how to think or act, especially in situations where the correct behavior or belief is unknown. The principle of social proof suggests that if many people are doing something, it has to be correct. This can be particularly influential when the behavior or belief is visible and the number of people involved is large.

Conformity

Some individuals oftentimes conform to fit into a group. Conforming helps individuals avoid the discomfort of standing out or being wrong. This is reinforced by the desire for social acceptance and fear of social rejection, driving people to adopt popular opinions, even if they have another opinion privately.

How to respond to the bandwagon fallacy

You are not controlling what other people do or think. Responding to these arguments can be difficult sometimes, but here are some ways how to respond to it:

  • Request evidence
    Ask the arguer to provide concrete evidence, including data, studies, or credible sources, that supports the claim that is being made.
  • Use counterexamples
    Provide examples where the popular opinion was wrong or where it turned out to be wrong. This could involve historical references or more contemporary situations.
  • Focus on the merits
    Try to redirect the conversation back towards a reasonable and thorough discussion of the actual merits or drawbacks associated with the claim.

How to avoid in academic writing

In academic writing, it is crucial to back up any assertion with a valid and reliable source. The Bandwagon fallacy would result in the opposite, as it is not backed up with evidence. You can accomplish this by basing your arguments on proven facts, evidence and research, rather than relying solely on what others have said or done. Conduct thorough research to gather various perspectives and cite your sources correctly in your bibliography. Discuss topics in your writing objectively, like this:

Example

Bandwagon argument
“Every friend of mine is currently ordering food with this new food delivery App, so it must be better than the other ones.”

Objective argument
“Many friends of mine have started to use this new food delivery App, citing its convenience and features. However, it is still important to consider factors like user reviews and personal preferences before determining its superiority over other apps.”

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FAQs

The Bandwagon fallacy is a logical and informal fallacy. The Bandwagon fallacy occurs when someone argues that a claim is valid just because many people believe or endorse it. The primary basis for its truth is the popularity and widespread acceptance of an idea.

To avoid the Bandwagon fallacy in your academic writing, you should always use evidence-based reasoning, consider counterarguments and evaluate your sources critically.

Here are some easy and quick bandwagon fallacy examples:

  • “Everyone uses Artificial Intelligence in their writing, so you can do it too.”
  • “If all your friends jumped out of the window, would you do it too?”
  • “Since everyone is investing in ETF’s, I should do it too.”

The name of the Bandwagon fallacy originates from the concept of jumping onto a bandwagon, which symbolizes joining a popular trend or movement without critical evaluation.

Other names for the Bandwagon fallacy are:

  • Common belief fallacy / Appeal to common belief
  • Argumentum ad populum
  • Appeal to masses