The Science Of Peer Pressure
Research has linked peer pressure to many negative behaviors, but that’s not the whole story. More studies are showing the positive side of peer pressure. As it turns out, peer pressure can lead to all sorts of positive outcomes,
including increased adoption of green behaviors.
This is your brain on peer pressure
- The human brain places more value on winning in a social setting. In peer pressure studies, researchers have found the parts of the brain associated with rewards - the striatum and medial prefrontal cortex - showed significantly
higher activity when a participant wins among peers versus winning alone.
Friendship is magic
- In the past, most academic studies of peer pressure focused on its negative aspects, especially its ability to promote risky behaviors. But an emerging body of research explores a much more positive side of peer pressure. Here are
some of its surprising benefits.
- Zaps pain. One study showed that male undergraduates were able to tolerate pain (in the form of mild electric shocks) more comfortably while watching models who they thought were receiving the same shocks but whose facial
expressions showed calm tolerance. The group watching these models reported lower levels of pain than those those watching models who looked like they were in pain or no model at all.
- Helps you lose weight. In a two-year randomized weight loss trial, group support was associated with sustained weight loss: 1) With group support - lost 13 pounds (4.9 kg); 2) Without group support - lost 2.2 pounds (1.8 kg).
- Makes you more generous. One study showed that male undergraduates were able to tolerate pain (in the form of mild electric shocks) more comfortably while watching models who they thought were receiving the same shocks but
whose facial expressions showed calm tolerance. The group watching these models reported lower levels of pain than those those watching models who looked like they were in pain or no model at all.
- Raises math scores. In the 1970's, using Chinese-American students as inspiration, UC Berkeley researcher Uri Treisman introduced peer-to-peer workgroups for African American college students in advanced math classes to see if it
would lead to better grades: 1) Workshop students: Earning a B or better in calculus (56%); Drop-out rate (3%); Graduating with a math-based major (44%); 2) Non-workshop students: Earning a B or better in calculus (21%); Drop-
out rate (25%); Graduating with a math-based major (10%).
- Discourages terrorism. Tina Rosenberg, author of Join the Club, points to STREET, a South London Muslim youth center as one possible example of positive peer pressure at work. Many of the center's clients are "radicalized" young
men re-entering society from prison and holding politically extremist views. The center includes anti-violence counseling by volunteers who once held similar opinions and share similar histories. Finding peaceful ways to respond is held
up as the new social norm in daily discussion groups and Islam's condemnation of violence is emphasized. Local probation officers report the program is very successful.
Green envy: peer pressure and the environment
- While many environmental efforts center on spreading information or financial rewards for green choices, peer pressure appears to be the most effective tool in encouraging green behavior.
- Everyone's doing it. Researchers found that giving Chinese farmers financial incentives to adopt eco-friendly techniques wasn’t as effective as letting them know their neighbors were already using those same techniques.
- Power in numbers. A study placed two different signs in hotel rooms urging guests to reuse towels. The guests who were exposed to the peer group sign were 25 percent more likely to reuse their towels.
- All the cool kids are doing it. In one study, hundreds of middle class homes in San Marcos, California, received doorhangers urging residents to use fans instead of air conditioning. Four different messages were tried: 1) Reduced
energy consumption by less than 3%: You will save $54 a month on your power bill; You'll prevent 262 pounds of greenhouse gases every month; Its' the socially responsible to do; 2) Reduced energy consumption by 10%: 77% of
your neighbors already use fans instead of air conditioning.
- Solar is contagious. Peer pressure also contributes to increased solar installations and a decrease in time between installations, making solar a contagious phenomenon: 1) The probability of someone going solar more than doubles
if they live on a block where a neighbor has solar power already; 2) For every 1 percent increase in solar installations in a zip code, there's a 1 percent decrease in the amount of time until the next solar installation.
Just say "know"
- In the mid 1980's two researchers, Wesley Perkins and Alan Berkowitz, discovered college students had exaggerated beliefs about how much their peers consumed alcohol. They theorized some students might be basing their drinking
behavior on these perceived pseudo-norms.
- Thus, social-norms marketing was born. Using newspaper ads, posters, and handouts, Northern Illinois University began the first social-norms marketing campaign to deliver the message that most students had fewer than five drinks
when they partied.
- By 1999, incidents of heavy drinking (five or more drinks) by Northern Illinois University students was down 44 percent.
- Other studies have also shown that social norms campaigns - those that aim to correct misperceptions by exposing real norms can have strongly positive health effects.
- The technique is moving beyond college campuses, too. Various state health departments are trying social-norms marketing on issues like smoking, seat belts, and safe sex.
Old vs. new models of behavior change: 1) Old: Fear and/or information driven; Pack 'em into an assembly hall, share scary statistics; Declare war on it; 2) New: "The social cure"; Peer-centric models that emphasize collaboration;
Create visible new norms and a sense of belonging.
One Block Off The Grid - Group Discounts On Solar (http://1bog.org) | Sources: The Ottowa Sun; New York Times; Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology; University Of Chicago Medical Center; UNiversity Of Notre Dame;
"Diversity And Motivation" By Margery B. Ginsberg And Raymond J. Wlodkowski; "Join The Club" By Tina Rosenberg; Wall Street Journal; Vote Solar; Crist.org.