Stock Market Volatility: Are You Thinking for Yourself?

"Not that many people watched the Couric interviews," Kohut continued, but "an awful lot of people said they had heard about it." This kind of news about a candidate or against a candidate gets through in many ways."

The Internet, word of mouth and late-night TV help spread the word.

Kohut said Obama also got a boost from the three debates.

"Debates made a big difference," he said. "They made the public more comfortable with Barack Obama, less comfortable with John McCain. More people said, 'Hey, he may be too old for office.'"

Despite the media frenzy over the presidential campaigns, political preferences have remained relatively steady. The latest ABC News/ Washington Post daily tracking poll shows Obama leading McCain, 52-44.

Historic Bubbles

It's a contrast with Wall Street, which has endured bubbles and crashes.

"The fundamental characteristic of bubbles and crashes -- panics like we're seeing now -- is that people become much more concerned about what other people think than about what they themselves think," Surowiecki said.

It doesn't help either when even smart, rich people are alarmed.

Commodities trader and Fox Business Network contributor Eric Bolling said the market can be like a pendulum.

"There is panic, there's fear," he said. "You know, things swing between fear and greed."

You're jumping in, he's jumping in, your other neighbor's jumping in," he said, "and that's pushing prices up, and that's pushing that pendulum to the greed side."

It's like keeping up with Joneses. If one neighbor sees another with a brand-new, more expensive car and he explains that he got it by buying stock or real estate, it's not uncommon for that neighbor to try that for himself.

"As you do it, and your other neighbor, and Bill does it, and Steve does it, and Sue does it, and Jane does it ... you push prices up," Bolling said. "Bull markets are made of the greed. The problem is, when things start to slow down a little bit, when you can't rent that condo that you just bought. And that pendulum starts to swing back the other way."

When Tulips Were All the Rage

But bubbles aren't anything new. It happened when English investors got excited about trade with the New World.

"The South Seas represented this tremendous investment opportunity, gold, trading businesses, various kinds of spices," Surowiecki said.

Even brilliant people, like Issac Newton, who developed the law of gravity, became convinced prices would only go up, and they lost everything.

"Isaac Newton did lose all of his money in a bubble, it is true," Surowiecki said.

"I can calculate the motions of the heavenly bodies," Newton reportedly said, "but not the madness of people."

"It requires a certain kind of makeup to really be able to remain impervious to what everybody else is doing," Surowiecki said.

There was once even a tulip bubble in the 17th century.

"That kernel of an idea -- tulips are economically valuable, people are willing to pay more for tulips that are more unusual -- inflated into a massive and incredibly destructive bubble," Surowiecki said. "People using the price of a house to buy a single tulip bulb."

It Could Be Worse

Just 10 years ago, there was the dotcom bubble.

Tiny, unprofitable companies like Pets.com and Webvan.com were sought after by investors. If you didn't own stock, you were missing out.

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