Peer pressure (or social pressure) is influence a peer group, observers, or an individual exerts that encourages others to change their attitudes, values, or behaviors to conform to those of the influencing group or individual. Social groups affected include both membership groups, in which individuals are "formally" members (such as political parties and trade unions), and cliques in which membership is not clearly defined. However, a person does not need to be a member or be seeking membership of a group to be affected by peer pressure. One may also recognize dissociative groups, with which one wishes to avoid associating, and thus behave counter to that group's norms.
- 1 In youth
- 2 Asch conformity
- 3 Factors in likelihood to conform
- 4 Responses to Peer Pressure
- 5 The Third Wave
- 6 As a leadership tool
- 7 Neural mechanisms
- 8 Explanation
- 9 See also
- 10 References
Peers become an important influence on behavior during adolescence, and peer pressure has been called a hallmark of adolescent experience. Peer conformity in young people is most pronounced with respect to style, taste, appearance, ideology, and values. Peer pressure is commonly associated with episodes of adolescent risk taking (such as delinquency, drug abuse, sexual behaviors, and reckless driving) because these activities commonly occur in the company of peers. Affiliation with friends who engage in risk behaviors has been shown to be a strong predictor of an adolescent's own behavior. Peer pressure can also have positive effects when youth are pressured by their peers toward positive behavior, such as volunteering for charity  or excelling in academics. The importance of peers declines upon entering adulthood.
While socially accepted kids often have the most opportunities and the most positive experiences, research shows that being in the popular crowd may also be a risk factor for mild to moderate deviant behavior. Popular adolescents are the most socialized into their peer groups and thus are vulnerable to peer pressures, such as behaviors usually reserved for those of a greater maturity and understanding. Socially accepted kids are often accepted for the sheer fact that they conform well to the norms of teen culture, good and bad aspects included. Popular adolescents are more strongly associated with their peer groups' likes such as alcohol, tobacco and drugs. Some studies also show that many popular students also make lower grades than less socially accepted kids. This is possibly due to the fact that popular students may spend more time worrying about their social life, or simply paying attention to their social life, rather than studying. Although there are a few risk factors correlated with popularity, deviant behavior is often only mild to moderate. Regardless, social acceptance provides more overall protective factors than risk factors.
Substance use and adolescents
Peer pressure is widely recognized as a major contributor to the initiation of substance use, particularly in adolescence. This has been shown across substances, including nicotine, and alcohol. While this link is well established, mediating factors do exist. For example, parental monitoring is negatively associated with substance use but when there is little monitoring adolescents are more likely to succumb to peer coercion during initiation to substance use but not during the transition from experimental to regular use. Caldwell and colleagues extended this work by finding that peer pressure was a factor leading to heightened risk in the context of social gatherings, little parental monitoring, and if the individual reported themselves as vulnerable to peer pressure. Conversely, some research has observed that peer pressure can be a protective factor against substance use.
Substance use is likely not attributed to peer pressure alone. Evidence of genetic predispositions for substance use exists and some have begun to examine gene x environment interactions for peer influence. In a nationally representative sample, adolescents who had genetic predisposition were more likely to have good friends who were heavy substance users and were furthermore, more likely to be vulnerable to the adverse influence of these friends. Results from specific candidate gene studies have been mixed. For instance, in a study of nicotine use Johnson and colleagues found that peer smoking had a lower effect on nicotine dependence for those with the high risk allele (CHRNA5). This suggests that social contexts do not play the significant role in substance use initiation and maintenance as it may for others and that interventions for these individuals should be developed with this consideration.
Though the impact of peer influence in adolescence has been well established, it was unclear at what age this effect begins to diminish. It is accepted that such peer pressure to use alcohol or illicit substances is less likely to exist in elementary school and very young adolescents given the limited access and exposure. Using the Resistance to Peer Influence Scale, Sumter and colleagues found that resistance to peer pressure grew as age increased in a large study of 10- to 18-year-olds. This study also found that girls were generally more resistant to peer influence than boys, particularly at mid-adolescence (i.e. ages 13–15). The higher vulnerability to peer pressure for teenage boys makes sense given the higher rates of substance use in male teens. For girls, increased and positive parental behaviors (e.g. parental social support, consistent discipline) has been shown to be an important contributor to the ability to resist peer pressure to use substances.
Peer pressure produces a wide array of negative outcomes. Allen and colleagues showed that susceptibility to peer pressure in 13- and 14-year-olds was predictive of not only future response to peer pressure, but also a wider array of functioning. For example, greater depression symptomatology, decreasing popularity, more sexual behavior, and externalizing behavior were greater for more susceptible teens. Of note, substance use was also predicted by peer pressure susceptibility such that greater susceptibility was predictive of greater alcohol and drug use.
Prevention and intervention
Substance use prevention and intervention programs have utilized multiple techniques in order to combat the impact of peer pressure. One major technique is, naturally, peer influence resistance skills. The known correlational relationship between substance use and relationships with others that use makes resistance skills a natural treatment target. This type of training is meant to help individuals refuse participation with substance use while maintaining their membership in the peer group. Other interventions include normative education approaches (interventions designed to teach students about the true prevalence rates and acceptability of substance use), education interventions that raise awareness of potential dangers of substance use, alcohol awareness training and classroom behavior management. The literature regarding the efficacy of these approaches, however, is mixed.
Peer pressure and sexual intercourse
There is evidence supporting that parental attitudes disapproving sex tends to lead toward lower levels of adolescent unplanned pregnancy. These disparities are not due solely to parental disposition but also on communication.
The Asch conformity experiments were a series of laboratory studies published in the 1950s that demonstrated a surprising degree of conformity to a majority opinion. These are also known as the Asch Paradigm.
Experiments led by Solomon Asch of Swarthmore College asked groups of students to participate in a "sight test." During the sight test, the experimenter displayed two cards- one card depicted three numbered lines of varying length, and the second card depicted one line. Participants were asked which of the three lines corresponded in length to the line from the first card. Participants were instructed to give their answers aloud. However, in reality, all but one of the participants were confederates (i.e., actors planted in the experiment by Asch), and the study was really about how the remaining student would react to the confederates' behavior.
Accordingly, on some trials the confederate(s) would answer with an obviously incorrect response. Despite the obvious error, participants felt social pressure to conform, answering incorrectly on 36.8% of trials to maintain conformity. In fact, 76.4% of participants answered incorrectly at least once, a massive difference from the 5% of incorrect responses found in control trials (i.e., when tested alone).
The results of Asch's study, as well as various replications have strong implications for factors that affect peer pressure.
Factors in likelihood to conform
A variety of factors identified by Forsyth (2009) have been linked with likelihood to conform to peer pressure.
- Unanimity – When all of the members of a group are performing the same action, individuals are more prone to conform.
- Group size – Likelihood of conforming to a majority increases as group size increases with a peak conformity in groups of seven (although the difference in likelihood of conformity between a group of three and a group of seven is not statistically significant).
- Independence of decision – if group members reached their decision independently, people will be more likely to conform compared to decisions decided upon as a group.
- Gender – Women are more likely to conform than men, especially in face-to-face, non-anonymous situations (Nord, 19679; Hare, 1976).
- Culture – Members of Eastern (collectivist) cultures are more likely to conform than their Western counterparts, especially when the influence is a family member or a friend.
- Age – Conformity increases with age, until adulthood where people show more independence in decision making.
- Authoritarianism – Individuals who respect and obey authorities are more likely to act in accordance with social convention.
- Birth order – First-born children are more likely to conform than children born later.
- Intelligence – People who score lower on IQ tests are more likely to conform than people who score higher on IQ tests.
- Self esteem – Individuals with moderate to high self-esteem are less susceptible to peer pressure than individuals with low self-esteem.
Responses to Peer Pressure
There are four possible responses to peer pressure:
- Compliance – Disagreeing with the opinion/action of the group, but acquiescing (i.e., going along with) the group opinion nonetheless.
- Conversion – Changing personal opinion to agree with the opinion of the group.
- Congruence – Agreeing with the opinion/action of the group from the onset.
- Non-Conformity – Either remaining independent (e.g., not succumbing to group pressure and maintaining personal opinion), or anti-conformity (purposefully expressing opinions or actions contrary to the status quo).
The Third Wave
The Third Wave was an experiment to demonstrate the appeal of fascism undertaken by history teacher Ron Jones with sophomore high school students attending his Contemporary History as part of a study of Nazi Germany. The experiment took place at Cubberley High School in Palo Alto, California, during the first week of April 1967. Jones, unable to explain to his students how the German populace could claim ignorance of the extermination of the Jewish people, decided to show them instead. Jones started a movement called "The Third Wave" and convinced his students that the movement is to eliminate democracy. The fact that democracy emphasizes individuality was considered as a drawback of democracy, and Jones emphasized this main point of the movement in its motto: "Strength through discipline, strength through community, strength through action, strength through pride". The Third Wave experiment is an example of risk behavior in authoritarian peer pressure situations.
As a leadership tool
It is one useful tool in leadership. Instead of direct delegation of tasks and results demanding, employees are in this case, induced into a behavior of self-propelled performance and innovation, by comparison feelings towards their peers. There are several ways peer pressure can be induced in a working environment. Examples include training and team meetings. In training, the team member is in contact with people with comparable roles in other organizations. In team meetings, there is an implicit comparison between every team member, especially if the meeting agenda is to present results and goal status.
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Neuroimaging identifies the anterior insula and anterior cingulate as key areas in the brain determining whether people conform in their preferences in regard to its being popular with their peer group.
An explanation of how the peer pressure process works, called "the identity shift effect", is introduced by social psychologist, Wendy Treynor, who weaves together Leon Festinger's two seminal social-psychological theories (on cognitive dissonance, which addresses internal conflict, and social comparison, which addresses external conflict) into a unified whole. According to Treynor's original "identity shift effect" hypothesis, the peer pressure process works in the following way: One's state of harmony is disrupted when faced with the threat of external conflict (social rejection) for failing to conform to a group standard. Thus, one conforms to the group standard, but as soon as one does, eliminating this external conflict, internal conflict is introduced (because one has violated one's own standards). To rid oneself of this internal conflict (self-rejection), an "identity shift" is undertaken, where one adopts the group's standards as one's own, thereby eliminating internal conflict (in addition to the formerly eliminated external conflict), returning one once again to a state of harmony. Even though the peer pressure process begins and ends with one in a (conflict-less) state of harmony, as a result of conflict and the conflict resolution process, one leaves with a new identity—a new set of internalized standards.
- Collective narcissism
- Milieu control
- Opinion corridor
- Social norms marketing
- Social exclusion
- Asch experiment
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