The psychology and economics behind trend setting

Hydroflasks, scrunchies and sksksksksk have seemed to take over not only the MVHS campus but the environment surrounding teens on social media platforms. Viral crazes like the “VSCO girl,” Billie Eilish and more have managed to infiltrate the screens of TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram user in the past few months —  and they’ll be off those platforms just as quickly as they arrived; just as fast as you can call them “trends,” they’ll disappear and be replaced.

The Science Behind It

But what exactly creates a trend? What gives something its virality? In a study conducted by the FC Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging in the Netherlands, researchers found our innate nature to “follow the crowd” is not just purely psychological — there are neural mechanisms that affect this behavior. Dr. Vasily Klucharev from the FC Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging, who spearheaded this study, discusses how the psychological impact of wanting to fit in can extend further into the networks of the human brain.

“We often change our decisions and judgments to conform with normative group behaviour,” Klucharev said. “However, the neural mechanisms of social conformity remain unclear. It may be due to a ‘prediction error’ signal being triggered in the brain due to group opinions.” 

These signals that Klucharev refers to essentially tell the brain if an outcome of a thought or action is different from the expected result. If there is a group opinion that differs from a personal opinion, the brain receives this as a neurological error that should be corrected — leading to what we perceive as a need to fit in, or conform, to “social norms.”

Trends at Monta Vista

For high schoolers, that often means shopping at certain stores, wearing a specific hoodie or even posting 15 second clips of yourself dancing to a song. Sophomore Pragati Dhanam feels these trends play a part in high school life, as she witnesses them in the environment at MVHS and they influence her choices. 

“One of the trendiest things right now is definitely Brandy Melville,” Dhanam said. “I think like a year ago, I was looking at Brandy Melville, like some of their clothes, and I’m like ‘that is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life’ — and then someone wears it and then I’m like, ‘Wait, that’s pretty cute.’ So Brandy can make anything seem cute just cause it’s Brandy — cause it’s ‘trendy.’” 

Dhanam explains how this subconscious need to follow trends can be attributed to a sense of belonging — an unconscious need to fit into a group of people. According to sophomore Avia Bouani, this feeling is often one that many perceive internally but is an emotion that many businesses almost seem to market to their customers. Bouani believes businesses often monopolize on the idea that their products can create a sense of identity for their customers, using it to their advantage to help make their products “trendier”.

“I think Brandy has like a really interesting marketing strategy,” Bouani said. “They make it so exclusive that if you can fit in their sizes and if it looks good on you and you can afford it, then you feel like you’re part of this club. You’re not even buying from a company. You’re almost buying into a ‘club.’”

This “exclusivity” that many businesses attempt to create can only last for so long, however. According to sophomore Shivali Tiwari, once a product becomes a trend, it has a sense of normalcy that almost diminishes how trendy it can be. Tiwari believes this effect applies to the random fluctuation of today’s trends. 

“I feel like a lot of people just don’t buy products that are considered trendy because it’s like they don’t want to be viewed as trend followers or that they’re trying to fit in, cause it’s also a trend to kind of be yourself nowadays,” Tiwari said. “People want to be considered cool, but they also don’t want to just blend in — there’s that exclusivity factor that’s important.”

Bouani agrees with this sentiment, describing how no one brand will be considered “trendy” for long — it’s all about how we, the customers, view it. 

“Just as quick as you rise, you can fall, and like I’m sure within, like three years, what’s trendy now will be completely gone,” Bouani said. “Like we won’t even think about it anymore. Businesses can’t create one ideal product — they always have to come back and reinvent.”

Looking Ahead

From Brandy, to Urban Outfitters, to Air Forces, to Hydroflasks, there are certain trends that seem to have taken over our lives in the past few months, as stated by Bouani, Dhanam and Tiwari. But how do we predict trends in the future? It’s almost impossible to try and gauge how trends will occur until they start to explode with virality — within the next year or so, the things you constantly see while walking the halls today may no longer be in style. So, cool today may be conventional tomorrow. 

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