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18 Examples of Safety In Numbers

Safety in numbers is the rule of thumb that relatively large social groups provide safety to their members. The following are illustrative examples.


The flocking behavior of birds, shoaling of fish, the swarming of insects and herd behavior of land animals appears to have survival advantages. For example, it is typically more difficult for a predictor to attack a synchronized group. Humans have similar dynamics. For example, it may be safer to walk in a group at night in a dangerous area.


Beyond simple herding, humans cooperate in complex ways whereby members of groups take on specialized roles and contribute specialized knowledge to conquer large tasks as one. As such, humans benefit from membership in large groups such as societies, cities, cultures and corporations. For example, as a member of a modern society you can buy technologically advanced products in return for several hours of labor that you could never develop yourself in a lifetime of labor.


If one person puts on a costume and goes downtown, it is an idiosyncrasy. If thousands of people do it, it is a culture. The latter benefits from safety in numbers whereby you are viewed as more credible with others.

Mainstream Culture

Where a culture becomes mainstream in a particular place, it may provide safety to members. For example, in an automobile culture the streets are viewed as dangerous places with a norm of staying out of the street. This benefits the mainstream culture of people who drive at the expense of those who would like to use the street for bicycling, walking or recreation. If bicycling culture dominated, automobiles might be required to drive slowly with high penalties for infractions that endangered cyclists. Between 2000 and 2008, the number of bicycle trips in London doubled. During this same period, serious bicycle injuries in England declined by 12%.

Collectivist Culture

In a purely collectivist culture the ideal is to be normal such that you fully comply with the standards of the group. This can be contrasted with an individualistic culture where the ideal is to be unique and self-expressive. In a collectivist culture, membership in large groups is greatly prized as a symbol of acceptance by the norm.

Conventional Wisdom

Conventional wisdom is often insightful but becomes a problem where people say things they don't fully understand. For example, an IT consultant who recommends a platform because they have heard many people talking about it without being able to properly explain its benefits as compared to other possibilities.


A group may be more likely to be right about something than an individual as a group has far more cognitive resources than an individual. As such, the heuristic of choosing popular opinions over unpopular opinions isn't necessarily irrational.

Trend Following

Trend following is a common behavior whereby people tend to like things that are newly popular. This creates a sense of belonging and shared experience. For example, seeing a popular movie that everyone is talking about such that you feel like you are actively part of a culture. This can be easily criticized as mindless or unoriginal. However, it is also an efficient way to develop cultural capital as it helps you to identify with and communicate with a large number of people.

Economies of Scale

Economies of scale is the tendency for the unit cost of a product or service to decline as you produce more of something. This allows popular items to be far less expensive than unpopular items. If you have conventional tastes and like popular stuff, you may be likely to enjoy generally low prices. For example, someone who enjoys a popular breakfast cereal versus someone who has detailed requirements for their breakfast such that few people have the same tastes.

Critical Mass

Critical mass is a situation where something doesn't work until sufficient numbers are achieved. For example, a government policy may remain in place if it is unpopular with 10% of people, it may remain at 60% disapproval but at some point it is bound to be ended if enough people are truly against it.


Groupthink is a social behavior whereby people fear to say what they think but rather echo what they think a group expects. This can create irrational behavior at great scale.


Authoritarianism is the process of using the authority of a group to promote oneself. For example, a government employee who uses rules for their own gain or to enjoy a sense of personal power.


Mediocrity is a pathetic behavior that seeks the safety of large groups while minimizing contributions to that group. For example, an employee who creates just enough of an illusion of productivity to avoid being fired.


The safety, security and material wealth of large groups can create a sense of complacency whereby risks go unrecognized. For example, an employee at a large firm who allows their talents and productivity to lapse out of a sense of entitlement based on their prestigious job title. Such behavior may be unlikely to be tolerated at a very small business that may depend on everyone's productivity to survive.

Social Safety Net

The pooling of resources in a society to provide safety to members. For example, a nation with free public healthcare.

Risk Transfer

The process transferring a risk to a third party. For example, fire insurance whereby you pay to transfer a risk to a firm. This is a type of safety in numbers as money is pooled by many people to reduce losses to individuals.

Jumping Through Hoops

Jumping through hoops is a unappealing task or activity that nonetheless has significant advantages due to the power of a society or culture. For example, the process of getting a driver's license. If there is safety in belonging to a group, it is certainly difficult to pit yourself against large groups such as mainstream culture or society. As such, jumping through hoops is often a pragmatic choice.

Fear of Missing Out

Fear of missing out is a human tendency to compare themselves to others and to feel a sense of dread if others are getting ahead in life. This causes a broad array of behaviors. For example, greater fool investing whereby a large number of investors flood into a speculative bubble. This is an example of conventional wisdom that is likely to backfire as the perceived safety of investing in something popular could increase your actual risk.


There are obvious examples, such as overcrowded situations, where being in a group decreases safety.

Social Behavior

This is the complete list of articles we have written about social behavior.
Abilene Paradox
Devils Advocate
Eye Contact
Frame Of Mind
Negative Attitudes
Positive Attitudes
Safety In Numbers
Saving Face
Social Attitudes
Social Behavior
Social Bias
Social Goals
Social Interaction
Social Life
Social Loafing
Social Norms
Social Pressure
Social Status
Social Tension
Social Thinking
Social Trust
Status Seeking
Tit For Tat
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Jacobsen, P. L. (2003). "Safety in numbers: more walkers and bicyclists, safer walking and bicycling". Injury Prevention. 9 (3): 205–209.

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