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The Psychology of Peer Pressure

Have you ever done something that you wouldn’t do in a billion years just because you’re the only one in your friend group who hasn’t done it before? We call that peer pressure.

Robert Frank, the author of Under the Influence: Putting Peer pressure to Work mentioned that “the effects they [people] have on us are often impossible to avoid any more easily than you can avoid secondhand smoke”. Looks like we’re a little less independent than we thought we were.

85% of highschoolers have been peer pressured. In this post you’ll learn more about the different types of peer pressure, and also the psychology behind it.

Types of peer pressure

  • Spoken / Unspoken

    • Spoken peer pressure is based on persuasion. People are asked if they want to tag along or are even encouraged by their peers to join activities.

    • Unspoken peer pressure makes people “tag along''. Although they have a choice whether to follow the crowd or not, most people cave in and follow the crowd just so they won’t be left out.

  • Positive / Negative

    • Peer pressure is not always a negative thing. Positive peer pressure has the effect of influencing a person in a good way, for example, people who study efficiently indirectly pressure others into working hard and studying as well.

  • Direct / Indirect

    • Direct peer pressure is an “on the spot decision”. You’re given a cigarette or a bottle of vodka without asking for it. Do you take it? Or reject it?

    • Indirect peer pressure often occurs when both parties aren’t conscious of it. It normally occurs when someone sees or hears a group of people doing something they’ve never thought of doing or never tried before. This causes them to second guess their self worth and eventually leads them to want to try what they saw/heard.

Why peer pressure is so hard to reject as a teenager

Teenagers are people still struggling to find their true identity and meaning in life. They are too young to know that one should stand up for what they believe in, ranging from the tiniest of things like which ice cream flavour is the best one, to serious world issues such as political controversies. It is hard to say no to peer pressure because teenagers are always a little desperate to fit in. They’re vulnerable and impuissant when it comes to making sure they’re represented as someone “cool” and popular, therefore causing them to accept any peer pressure given to them even if they consciously know it could harm them.

Causes of peer pressure

  • Struggling to develop their own personal identity

  • Afraid of being bullied

  • Has low self esteem

  • Has a strong fear of rejection

  • Does not want to be left out

  • Desperately wants to be cooler

  • Wants to be seen by others and be accepted by others

Effects of peer pressure

  • Distancing with friends and family

  • Harming themselves unconsciously

  • Picking up bad habits such as smoking or doing drugs

  • Mental health may decrease

  • Increase chances of committing suicide

How to avoid and deal with peer pressure

Construct your social circle with people that positively influence you

Since none of us are 100% immune to social influence, you got to have the right group of friends around you to ensure that they wouldn’t force you to do something potentially harmful. They should be people who motivate you to become a better person, instead of pressuring you to do things you normally wouldn’t do.

Think before you act

Have more respect for yourself and your body. If you know smoking is bad for you, do not smoke even if your group of friends do so. Harming your own body for a few toxic friends is definitely not right.

Have more confidence in yourself

Some researchers did a social experiment where they asked a group of people to identify which line out of the three was the same as the one given. All of them answered line C when they came into the room alone. However, when peer pressure was added, meaning they heard the answers of those who went before them, 38% of them changed their answer to line A after some people in front of them purposely answered A. It’s easy to conform to social influence, but you also have to trust yourself when you know that you’re right. Don’t change your answer despite a difference with those of others. Your opinions are validated and your voice matters. Go for the answer you’re sure of, and don’t answer line A when you know it’s C.

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