Of frogs and men

The Washington Post reports on the behavioral science underlying the actions taken recently by individuals who were customers of IndyMac Bank, a California bank that has been taken over by the US government:

When a group of frogs senses they are about to be visited by the dreaded snake, they do not hop in separate directions. They bunch up together. And they fight to get in the middle, taking comfort in being further from being eaten by the bad guy. Sheep do it. Minnows do it. It turns out that humans do, too, particularly in financial crashes.

“The safest thing is to run toward the middle,” said Elke Weber, a Columbia University business professor who has studied judgment and decision-making. Her correlating four-legged example: gazelles running from lions. “In the middle, surrounded by everyone else, that is where you take comfort. To hide in a crowd is very evolutionary. When you are fearful, you take comfort in herds.”

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