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UNDERSTANDING SPANIARDS

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

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ENGLISH LANGUAGE

Spaniards have second lowest level of English in EU

Despite Spain’s popularity with English-speaking holidaymakers and home buyers, its people continue to have one of the worst levels of English in Europe according to the 2022 English Proficiency Index.

Spaniards have second lowest level of English in EU

A study conducted by language school empire English First in their latest English Proficiency Index found that the Spanish rank number 33 out of 111 countries, but are way behind other nations in Europe, as they came in at number 25 out of 35.

In fact, Spaniards have the second lowest level of English in the whole of the EU, with only the French ranked worse. 

This is in stark contrast to other EU countries such as the Netherlands (number 1 in the world), Austria (3rd), Belgium (4th) and Nordic countries Norway (4th), Denmark (5th) and Sweden (7th).

Spain even fell behind other southern European countries – Portugal came at number 9, Greece at number 14 and Italy at number 32. 

READ ALSO: Why are the Spanish ‘so bad’ at speaking English?

In terms of how the Iberian nation’s level compares on the global scale, Spain maintains a medium level of English proficiency, in the same range as Ukraine, South Korea and Costa Rica. 

People with this mid-level English are able to carry out simple tasks in English such as understanding song lyrics and writing professional e-mails about subjects they’re familiar with, but may have problems with more complex conversations and understanding films that haven’t been dubbed.  

“Despite making a little progress, the English level of Spaniards remains at the moderate levels where it has stayed for many years, without showing great improvements,” said the director General of EF Spain, Xavier Martí.

“The data confirms that the educational model presents deficiencies in language learning”. 

Which regions in Spain have the best and worst levels of English?

The study revealed that Galicians have the best level of English among Spaniards, followed by Catalans, Basques and then those from Cantabria, which all had above-average levels of English compared with the rest of the country.

On the other end of the scale, those from Extremadura had the worst level of English. Only slightly better were people from La Rioja, Castilla-La Mancha and Murcia, who all had levels below the national average.

When it comes to cities, people in the Galician city of Vigo had the best level of English, followed by regional neighbour A Coruña, Barcelona and then Bilbao. Madrid is in fifth place.

In terms of the cities with the worst levels of English, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria took top spot, only slightly above the cities of Murcia, Valladolid and the other Canary capital of Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

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