October 25, 2010

Positive Peer Pressure

KS_2010a By Karen Sternheimer

Peer pressure has gotten a bad reputation. Typically this phrase elicits anxieties about the possible negative influence teens may have on each other. In reality, as social beings we are all influenced by peer pressure. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Take for example an annual event here in southern California and in many communities around the country: coastal cleanup day. This is a day when people are encouraged to come together to pick up trash from beaches and neighborhoods to prevent trash from draining into the ocean. Divers search for debris in the water and come up with things that clearly don’t belong there: lawn furniture, car parts, and other refuse that can harm marine life.

According to the Los Angeles Times, more than 14,000 volunteers picked up 50 tons of trash across the county recently. This was a really impressive accomplishment that made me think of the power of others to influence our behavior—often in positive ways. While we could all pick up trash that others left behind any day of the year, most people do not.

One woman is a notable exception, so notable that the Los Angeles Times featured her daily efforts to clean the beach in a separate story. Sara Bayles spends twenty minutes a day picking up trash on the beach on her own, catalogues and writes a blog about what she finds. In six months she alone picked up more than 600 pounds of trash. Cleaning up isn’t a terribly hard thing to do, but most of us don’t do it on our own.

The trash story made me think of the ways peer pressure may influence me (individually we tend to think others are influenced by peers, but typically see ourselves as immune). I clip_image002hike regularly, mostly with a group. Being with a group provides safety, but it also makes me hike longer than I would on my own. The social aspect serves as a distraction from feeling tired, and I want to keep going if the group keeps going, trusting the leader to take us in the right direction and avoid getting lost. Finishing in the front of the group makes me feel a sense of accomplishment, and I can admit that I can be a little competitive. I probably hike faster when I am with others for this reason.

You might have heard in the news that our social networks can influence our weight. Researchers concluded that those around us comprise our frame of reference and shape how we evaluate our own weight and health. Being around a lot of fit people can serve as positive peer pressure, which is why weight loss advice often encourages people to find a buddy to workout with.

Social psychologists like Philip Zimbardo have documented how being part of a group shapes our behavior and makes us do things we might never do on our own. People around us influence and shape our behavior, whether we are aware of their influence or not.

image Stanford sociologist Clifford Nass even argues that we interact with computers in a similar way. His book, The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us about Human Relationships, is based on his many experiments with people and computers.

For instance, Nass found that common social niceties like using praise or flattery instead of criticism makes people have more favorable attitudes about a computer. Yes—Nass found that people react to the way computers interact with them as though they were human. This is why the old Microsoft Word icon, Clippy, elicited such negative reaction. Clippy would show up and wink at you occasionally, and ask whether it could help you while working on a Word document. Clippy was annoying, and Nass found that people tended to react to the icon as though it were an annoying person.

In one experiment, Nass programmed the computer his subjects used to provide flattery in response to some questions. He told one group that the computer’s responses were very accurate and based on years of research. He told the other group that they hadn’t finished the software yet and the comments they would receive were completely random. A third group received no computer feedback.

Respondents who received flattering comments (like “clever” or “ingenious”) from the computer reported positive feelings, noting its accuracy, regardless of whether they were told the comments were accurate or random. Nass’s subjects—computer science students—might have consciously thought the feedback wasn’t important, but they felt good regardless.

Nass did another experiment in which subjects tested software. One group tested it on a computer they had been working with; another group tested it on a separate (but identical) computer. He found that subjects liked the software better if they used it on the computer they had been using already. He concluded that “they unconsciously felt they had to be polite to the computer” they had a previous “relationship” with. We might feel peer pressure to be nice even when our “peer” is an inanimate object.

Yes, peer pressure might encourage us to do horrible things. Stanley Milgram's famous experiment suggests that people might obey authorities who ask us to harm others. Solomon Asch also conducted a well-known experiment where people were asked to judge the length of a line; when others in the room all agreed with the wrong answer, subjects tended to agree with the wrong answer as well.

But peer pressure can be positive, whether it encourages us to clean up, stay healthy, or think positively about ourselves. How else might peer pressure act as a positive force?

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Comments

I completely agree with this article. I currently attend the number one academic public school in Michigan and there is intense competition amoungst all the advance placement courses and extra curriculars. I have found that all the students push each other to take harder courses and put more work and effort into their academics. At my school if you aren't enrolled in an excellerated math class or advance placement literature class, you are a minority and seperated from the majority of the grade, this pushes many students to take harder classes and push them selves more than they thought possible. In this article, someone who is not participating in a certain activity (taking harder classes, involved in a local beach clean up) they are considered deviant, or defying a norm. Positive peer pressure can help to positively reverse this deviant activity.

I definitely agree with this article. I play a variety of sports and its all the same in each sport. If someone does something right, they get praised by the coach about it. This pushes each of us to try and out do each other in order to receive praise from our coach and try to increase our playing time. If you aren't noticed for what you do, you aren't doing anything that is worth being noticed for so there is pressure to do your best and try and distinguish yourself from your teamates. Peer pressure really makes teams better as a whole.

Agree withthe information in this article. Per pressure comes in either negative or positive reinforcment, even when you aredoing something you know you shouldn't be doing you are receiving positive peer pressure (reinforcement) for participating. This is where you have to seperate yourself and remember what right versus wrong is even though you are being provided positive peer pressure for a negative act. Peer pressure can be a great confidence booster or it can be of great detriment to how a person behaves or rationalizes. We all appreciate the receiprt of praise and who better to receive it froma than our peers, its not the same as being told great job by a parent or a teacher, their pretty much programmed to provide positive feedback, yet peers who give and receive it seem more genuine and enthusiastic during the process because it brings them closer to a goal achievement whether it be in sports or academics and for some reason it has more meaning coming from your peers.

I agree with this article because I have seen peer pressure work positively plenty of times. For example, I see it in my school all the time. One person gets a good grade on a test, and the entire classroom admits their jealousy of that student in one way or another. That leads to (1) that one person to always want to do good on tests and (2) the other students wanting to receive the same type of feedback. Also, I've helped at blood drives and students are more willing to donate if other students are encouraging them to and telling them how helpful and harmless it is.

I think it is refreshing to hear someone talk about peer pressure in a positive light. People often turn away from peer pressure and call it awful and blame every good kid gone bad story on it, but it is not always like that and I think your article on it really showcases the positive effects peer pressure can have on people. Encouragement come along with peer pressure and although sometime it can be bad lots of times it can make people reach for higher standards and I think your piece really highlights that in a remarkable way.

In general I agree with this article. Karen makes some great points and shows some great examples of how peer pressure can be a very positive thing to help society. I myself have witnessed this same positive peer pressure in many situations too ranging from team sports to academics. Coaches, teachers, teammates and other people, by encouraging you or providing competition for you can push you to levels you never before thought were possible.

This article had some great points and i agree with them all. From personal experience I can say that peer pressure definetly can be good, it pushes and challenges you. Especially for the competitive type, such as myself. I find that bing with a group pushes me to excel and do my best.

I also agree with what Karen is saying, and I find it interesting how simple things such as picking up trash can be affected by peer pressure. I am familiar with her peer pressure experience in a group. I am on a soccer team and I feel better practicing with them and being encouraged rather than practice alone.

I agree with what Karen is saying, she is absolutely right when she says that peer pressure can be positive. In my sociology class we are talking about deviance and how other kids can influence other people's deviances by breaking the norms of the culture. Even though, there is many positives, there is also many negatives to people following what others do, sure they're doing somthing good for the Earth but are they actually doing it because they want to or because they feel like they need to? Which is a bad thing when it comes to being your own person.

I like how you took a different look at peer pressure than most do. As a sociology student I have only read about the negative affects of peer pressure. These being drug use, violence, and other juvenile behavior. It was nice to read about people having a positive influence on others around them as opposed to it always being negative.

I thought the article was interesting because it explained the positive side of peer pressure. When ever I have heard the term peer pressure I automatically think negatively. Peer pressure usually consists of a inner battle between peers and your conscious. An individual may be influenced by a group to clean up trash or play sports. Both examples of peer pressure are positive and not considered a bad thing. ” Peer pressure can lead to healthy, positive thinking. I enjoyed the article because it flipped my perspective on what peer pressure is.

October 25, 2010

Positive Peer Pressure-Karen Sternheimer

It is nice to hear people talk about peer pressure under postive lighting. In this chapter there has been a lot to do with negative influences in the media and in the community of some youth, but in this article it is clear that not all peer pressure is negative.
I completly agree with what it is saying and I believe that if we practice more of this positive peer pressure, there is no telling how today's youth can be changed.

This is great, I too just wrote on the positive aspect of peer pressure because I had experienced it with the children. Broadening the definition relieved fear. Thanks for the post.

I agree, positive peer pressure pushes us to strive for our goals and not give up, and it helps through difficult times too.

Indeed, peer pressure also has a positive side. People need to strive and create a positive impact within the community, and set a good example that others could follow.

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