Smoking Vampires, Crowds, and the Center for Disease Control

August 26th, 2010 by LaRae Quy

Robert Pattinson is best known for his role as smoldering and kind-hearted vampire in the “Twilight” movie series. He is smoldering in a different way in his new movie “Remember Me,” a PG-13 romance in which his character smokes. This has stoked renewed criticism over the role movies play in contributing to the popularity of smoking among teens and young people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report last week showing that scenes of smoking in movies had declined over the past five years. However, a recent New York Times article indicated that more than half of all PG-13 rated movies still showed smoking. And it’s the PG-13 rated movies that are of particular concern because they are the ones that teens view the most. The more on-screen smoking they see, they more likely they are to pick up the habit themselves.

The herd instinct is strong in all of us. We see others do it and we want to follow. We don’t want to be left behind—or left out—and these roots go deep to the heart of survival because herds show us how we fit in with others. Even the toughest “loner” is influenced by people—either face-to-face or through the media—who share similar interests and activities to their own. The challenges for you and me are ones of balance: the wisdom of collective thinking vs allowing the crowd to exert too much influence on our thinking.

Let me explain.

As an FBI counterintelligence agent, one of my jobs was to recruit foreign spies to work for the U.S. government. While many factors contributed to my decision on which particular spy to concentrate my efforts, one of the most important was this: where did they show up in the herd? In general, the ones who raced ahead of the others, or lagged behind, were the easiest to isolate, analyze, and pick off. The hardest groups to recruit were those who ran with the pack because they were surrounded with other like-minded individuals who covered each other’s back.

While there is no “right” place to be, there are several wrong reasons to be in that place.

People who run ahead of the crowd are often innovators and leaders; but they can also be greedy and arrogant. The middle bulge consists of those who either experience connectedness through collaboration with others; but they can also be saving time by relying on groupthink for direction. Followers tend to be observers of human nature who sifted through the collective wisdom and applied it to their own situations; but they can also be lazy and critical.

We can apply this understanding of crowds in a couple of ways:

1. Do you use groupthink as a way to save time?

The collective wisdom of a crowd can create value and save time. This is the true essence of collaboration. But history is full of examples of poor choices made because of groupthink—Nazi Germany, the Salem witch trials, and mob violence, to name a few. It’s simple a matter of saying, “Others are doing it so it must be OK.” Groupthink is not collaboration.


  • Collect information from all points of view.
  • Don’t be a victim of disinformation or prejudice from one particular group.
  • Take the time to double check your facts.

2. Do you move away from crowds for the right reason?

You can only thrive in a group if you’re not dependent on it. Self-knowledge and autonomy are essential to be a healthy and contributing member of a crowd.


  • Stop grazing and skimming information on important topics.
  • Pick an area in which to become an expert. If you’re not sure what that topic may be, go to a bookstore and pay attention to the sections that interest you.
  • Read up on it. Share your knowledge with others. If you don’t, you can’t add to the collective wisdom of the group.

“Men, it has been said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.”

Charles Mackay, Scottish historian

Take Away

You can surrender to the crowd and allow it lead you around by the nose, or you can step back and enrich your own experience by thinking for yourself.

Where are you being influenced by groupthink?

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