Spaniards have ‘herd mentality’ rather than being free thinkers: study

Spaniards are renowned for being passionate, expressive and fun loving, but a new study reveals that they're also heavily influenced by others and not often independent-minded.

spaniards herd mentality
80 percent of respondents said they prefer to follow the majority for fear of attracting attention, even if they don't agree. (Photo by Ander GILLENEA / AFP)

Spain is an extremely varied country with its distinct regional idiosyncrasies and social traits, but its people are generally known abroad for being friendly, loud, hedonistic, active and straight-talking.  There are also negative stereotypes such as that they’re lazy and enjoy siestas, which the evidence suggests is far from true.

Recent research has revealed that there’s another trait that is common among Spaniards: they prefer to go with the crowd and aren’t very individualistic.

These are the findings of the Study on Critical Thinking carried out by the IO Research Institute for none other than Spanish beer 1906 (their latest advertising campaign asks if Spaniards are free thinkers).

The study, which examined the behaviours and ways of thinking in Spaniards, found that 95 percent of Spaniards believe they live in a society that is influenced by others.

In fact, 80 percent of respondents said they prefer to follow the majority for fear of attracting attention, even if they don’t agree.

Of those surveyed, only two out of ten people thought that behaving differently is a positive thing.

David Martín de la Morena, from IO Investigación, explained that “one in four Spaniards makes important decisions by letting themselves be guided by the majority. In fact, 11 percent indicated that they had got married because it was what they had to do.

According to the study, four out of ten Spaniards felt their relationships with family and friends were based on established behavioural norms, and not what they really thought or wanted to do.

Up to 73 percent of respondents said they have specifically not done something so as not to disappoint their loved ones, and almost half claimed to have lied for the sake of the people around them.

These agreeable, non-confrontational social norms make the Spanish “an unoriginal, very gregarious country which follows the herd mentality,” says Fernando Vidal, Professor of Sociology at the University of Comillas.

READ ALSO: Nine unwritten rules that explain how Spain works

Young people and social media

The study also concluded that for young Spaniards, perceptions of friends and social media use contributed to a lack of critical thinking and boosted the herd mentality. Sixty-nine percent of respondents in the survey say that their internet use conditions their way of acting and thinking. One in three Spaniards claimed to watch series or films because they are perceived to be popular or fashionable, not because they were interested. 12 percent have picked holiday destinations for similar reasons, many of the trends born on social media.

With regards to their posts or opinions online, 66 percent claimed they were original expressions of their own thoughts and feelings, while 34 percent admitted they were echoing the predominant opinions online. José Carlos Ruiz, a philosopher who worked on the study, said that “the narratives we find on social media are being incorporated into each person, so that, without realising, we internalise the external as a criterion for taking action.”

Whether it be due to societal pressures, interpersonal relationships or social media use, it appears Spaniards are very influenced by one another and what they perceive to be the right or fashionable thing to do.

The pandemic

Take the COVID-19 pandemic, for example. If you were in Spain in 2020 and 2021, you probably couldn’t have helped but notice how compliant Spanish society was with lockdown, masks, and then vaccines. Even today, in November 2022, Spaniards still gladly wear face masks on public transport and in hospitals as required by law.

A study by Imperial College London published in June 2021 found that 79 percent of people in Spain trusted Covid-19 vaccines (roughly the same amount of the population who got vaccinated), compared to 62 percent in the US, 56 percent in France and 47 percent in Japan.

Whereas in countries like France and Italy many public workers such as teachers and health workers refused to get vaccinated, in Spain no mandate was needed.

Whether it was more ‘herd mentality’ or the Spanish sense of community following a very high death rate among Spain’s elderly population in the first months of the pandemic, a less individualistic mentality benefitted Spain and its reputation abroad.

And even though a less independent-minded population may have its drawbacks, a selfless society can make for a great place to live.

READ ALSO: Spaniards think France is superior…and so do the French

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Why the Basque Country is the strike capital of Spain

Around half of all strikes in Spain take place in the Basque Country, but it wasn't always that way.

Why the Basque Country is the strike capital of Spain

Though airport workers are currently striking in Valencia and Madrid, and trade unions have played a leading role in the farmers’ protests across the country in recent weeks, there’s a specific part of Spain that stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to industrial action — the Basque Country.

According to figures from the Basque government’s Labour Relations Council (CRL), in 2023 almost half (46 percent) of the total strikes called in Spain took place in the Basque Country.

In 2022, that figure was 50.36 percent. That is to say, a region with less than 5 percent of the country’s total population had half of its strikes. More specifically, 342 of the 679 strikes that took place in Spain in 2022 were in the Basque Country alone, according to data from the Ministry of Labour.

READ ALSO: What are the pros and cons of life in Spain’s Basque Country?

What explains this phenomenon? Is there an underlying explanation? Are the Basque people particularly organised or more radical than other Spaniards?

Part of the explanation for this trend comes from the fact that Basque trade unions have grown, or maintained, at least, as union activity has declined in the rest of the country.

As Spanish trade unions slowly began waning in power and membership over the years (like in many countries around the world) the Basque Country became a hotbed of trade unionism activity and industrial action in Spain from the early-2000s. In more recent years, the 2020s in particular, the proportion of strikes in the Basque Country versus the rest of Spain has grown ever higher due to an overall decrease in the number of strikes around the rest of the country.

Jon Las Heras, Professor of Political Economy at the University of the Basque Country and expert on Basque unions, says that this high rate of strikes compared to the rest of Spain is due, above all, to the trade union model and strategy adopted by the region’s two major unions, Eusko Langileen Alkartasuna (ELA) and Langile Abertzaleen Batzordeak (LAB).

“ELA and LAB have formed a ‘counter-power’ bloc in opposition to CCOO and UGT [the traditional, major unions in Spain] that are more prone to engage into social dialogue,” Las Heras argues in his paper Striking to Renew: Basque Unions’ Organising Strategies and the Use of the Strike-Fund.

This strategy, he argues, is “based on organising workers ‘deeply’ – especially with ELA’s recurrent use of a strike-fund that fosters membership participation and affiliation through confederal solidarity.”

In short, whereas Spain’s larger national unions are, Las Heras suggests, more inclined to dialogue to resolve industrial disputes, Basque unions prefer more direct action. “This has produced very high strike rates since the 2000s, perhaps the highest in Europe,” he adds.

It is worth considering that the Basque Country, in addition to effectively using strike funds, is also one of the wealthiest parts of Spain. In other words, that workers in the Basque Country take home the second highest salaries in Spain on average, behind only Madrid, could mean that union members are more inclined (or have the financial flexibility) to take strike action than if they were from poorer regions such as Murcia, Extremadura and Andalusia.

READ ALSO: Why are the Basque Country and Catalonia so rich compared to the rest of Spain?

At the very least, being wealthier on average means that Basque workers can afford to stay on strike longer than workers in other parts of the country, something essential when settling disputes through industrial action.

However, trade unionists would no doubt point to their strong trade unionism as one of the reasons they are comparatively well paid, rather than the other way around.

But it wasn’t always like this. According to Las Heras, ELA, LAB and other Basque unions formerly relied on dialogue and sector-wide collective bargaining agreements, as many unions still do, but began to develop “a strategy of political autonomy and trade union action at a level closer to the grassroots” between the 1990s and the 2000s.

This came about partly as a result of changes to the labour market and industrial changes in the Basque Country (which began from the 1980s onwards, notably the types of industry and engineering in the region) as well Basque unions distancing themselves from national unions

“The rise of the second Basque union (LAB) allowed for the two Basque sovereigntist unions to form a new alliance that stood in opposition to the two main Spanish unions,” Las Herras argues.

But it’s also about strategy. Elena Pérez Barredo, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Security in the Basque government, told La Vanguardia that the fundamental reason strikes are so common “lies in the trade union difference that exists in the Basque Country.”

“The ELA has a union strategy and culture that encourages confrontation… a very marked strategy in favour of the strike as an instrument of confrontation,” she adds.

There seem to be several plausible, inter-connected reasons that the Basque Country became Spain’s (and possibly Europe’s) strike capital.

It has strong regional trade unions that exist separately from the larger confederate national unions; these unions have effective strike funds, meaning they can strike for longer; their employees are, on average, likely to be better paid than elsewhere in Spain, meaning they could be more inclined and financially able to take strike action; and finally, Basque unions take a more direct, confrontational approach to industrial disputes, whereas other unions rely more on dialogue and border collective bargaining agreements.

Perhaps Unai Rementeria, a local Basque politician, summed it up best after widespread strike action in the region in 2019. Basque unions, he said simply, “seek permanent confrontation.”