Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Boy Band Effect

Social proofing is a very powerful tool. There are all sorts of examples of this; another well known (academic) study was conducted by Milgram in 1969 (see source at bottom) where he had people stand around and look up at a window. Forty-five percent of the people on the street stopped if one person was looking up, eighty-five percent of the people on the street stopped if fifteen people were looking up. Social proof has also been used to cure phobias. In a 1967 study, children who were afraid of dogs were more likely to handle a dog themselves after watching another child play with the animal.

So whenever I see mountains of screaming fans I have to wonder if there isn't some social engineering happening. Do you remember that South Park episode where Cartmen goes to Chef for advice about making a boy band?

Cartmen: Chef, God told me I was to start a boy band and make ten million dollars. The problem is, it isn't working. I mean I feel the music burning inside me, but I just can't express it right, you know?

Chef: Well Eric I... I think you're just focusing in on the wrong thing. Boy bands aren't about music, they're created by corporations to make money, they're all based on the Garmlich effect.

Cartmen: What's the Garmlich Effect?

Chef: The law of physics that states if one girl screams for something, it will make other
girls scream and then it grows exponentially until all girls within a five mile radius are screaming.

Cartmen: But then how do boy bands use that?

Chef: All they do is make videos, showing tons and tons of girls screaming for the boy-band. Once you get them screaming you can't stop them, they're crazy. Ex.. except for Liz of course.

Cartmen: Thanks!

Chef: You're welcome! Now go away.

Cartmen: OK!
Chef: And a cucumber down the pants never hurt either!

Cartmen: Cucumber down the pants, got it.
I have to wonder if there is some truth to the fictional Garmlich effect. Have you ever seen the first Backstreet Boys, or The Beatles music video? They're all being chased, or surrounded by by hordes of screaming women! In all fairness N'Sync doesn't get chased until their second video, and there is only one woman. In their first video, they're all dancing together on a moon-base, 238 thousand miles from the closest female.

One cannot help but think that there is an artificial standard being created. I remember hearing about screaming fans being placed up front at Elvis and Frank Sinatra concerts, although I have no source for this.  Televangelists place plants in their audiences, why wouldn't music promoters do the same?

Social proofing is a
heuristic, a shortcut to mental decisions. "If that worked for them, then the same must also work for me"! I would argue that this is the same behavior that makes men already in a relationship more attractive to other women. "If she's in a happy relationship with him, I can be in a happy relationship with him". Finally we may have an answer to the loaded question "why are all the good men taken"? There are of course other factors involved in this. It is a rule of logic for example, that the less of something there is, the more valuable it is.

Of course, our best defense against social proof is our knowledge of it. The book The Psychology of Influence has a lot more information on how marketers, and other people try to exploit these mental heuristics we are all prone to.I highly suggest this book as further reading material into the subject.

Bandura, A. (1967). The role of modeling processes in personality development. In W. W. Hartup & N. L. Smothergill (Eds.), The young child. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Milgram, S., Bickman, L., Berkowitz, L. (1969).  Note on the drawing power of crowds of different size. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 13, 79-82.


  1. Interesting read man, I'm really into psychology like this.

  2. An insightful post. Boy bands really are more of a product that a form of artistic expression.

  3. I think you're definitely right here. I mean five guys you've never heard of come out then BAM! their mega famous. It's always struck me as weird how boy bands get so famous.

  4. Ah, South Park, making sense of the world for as long as I can remember

  5. Great post to read! Following :)

  6. "The law of physics that states if one girl screams for something, it will make other
    girls scream and then it grows exponentially until all girls within a five mile radius are screaming"

    Like disease spreading rate formula.

  7. Teenage girls are the dumbest and the most exploitable demographic other than Alzheimer's patients.

    But even Alzheimer's patients have moments of clarity and intelligence though.