[FOUNTAIN]Unified behavior can be powerful

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[FOUNTAIN]Unified behavior can be powerful

Muju, in North Jeolla province, is a city of 30,000 people in a mountainous area. In fact, the city is 80 percent mountains. In June, some 610,000 visitors gathered in this normally quiet place.
What was the attraction that drew 20 times the city’s population to Muju? The twinkle of fireflies. Every year, their stylish dance brings the Muju Firefly Festival to life.
What makes a thousand fireflies glow together all at once? The scientific explanation is the phenomenon of conformity.
A firefly senses the glow of other fireflies, and produces its own light to be in harmony with them. The reason they glow at all is to attract a firefly of the opposite sex. What seems like a collaborative effort is in fact a matter of competition, of trying to glow brightest to attract a mate.
We can see another example of conformity among women. As has been noted by scientists, women who are sisters, colleagues or close friends tend to begin their menstruation periods around the same time.
Martha McClintock was the first to record this phenomenon scientifically. She monitored the menstruation cycles of 135 female students. When she started her research, the women’s periods were 8.5 days apart, on average.
But after five months of observation, the gap had shortened to five days. Unconsciously, it seems, women tend to ovulate in sync with their friends.
Evolutionarily speaking, the reason for this phenomenon is presumed to be that it made it easier for women to share the burden of breastfeeding and caring for their babies.
Other examples of conformity can be found in rock concerts and in soccer stadiums. In a crowd, unorganized clapping tends to becomes rhythmical and orderly at some point. This, again, is conformity. People become connected psychologically and begin to clap in a uniform rhythm. In this case, conformity is the motive to unite people together.
In 1998, there was a major flood in China, one of the biggest in the last century. Then-Premier Zhu Rongji immediately visited the flood site. He was in a T-shirt, soaked in dirty water.
He stood at a dike, the water swelling below. He shouted, “Kanghong!” Essentially, he was saying, “Let’s fight together and beat this flood!” Eventually, everyone there started shouting, “Kanghong!” This was conformity between a leader and his people. With that bonding, they were able to overcome the disaster.
It is now the rainy season in Korea. Where is our prime minister? Not on a golf course, we hope.

by You Sang-cheol

The writer is a deputy international news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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