November 10, 2016

The Major Causes and Effects of Peer Pressure

Peer pressure can happen to any of us. Learn about the causes & effects of peer pressure so you can be confident about knowing how to deal with it when it strikes.

Facing peer pressure, especially as a teenager is stressful, overwhelming, and confusing. I know the feeling because it's happened to me on many occasions. I know what it's like. In the moment, you just want to ‘fit in’, be ‘one of them’ and not disappoint. You want them to like you and to be perceived as being cool. But, somehow you know on the inside, something doesn't feel right. On the one hand, you want to do what feels right for you. But, on the other hand, you are compelled to do what everyone else wants you to do. This confusing and conflicting feeling is Peer Pressure.

It's, in a sense, a mechanism for transmitting group norms and maintaining group loyalties[1]. Staying true to yourself in the face of peer pressure is one of the toughest challenges we face in our lives—especially for teenagers. While the causes of peer pressure are one thing, the effects of peer pressure are unquestionably another. Whether you or someone you know is facing peer pressure, know that it can happen to any of us. Despite how popular or unpopular we may be. And, despite our position in our social circles—whether it be at school or in the workplace. In this article, we'll answer what some of the fundamental causes of peer pressure are and how you can identify these. And, secondly, we'll briefly discuss what some of the most significant effects of peer pressure are and can how they can have a significant impact our lives and our well-being.

The Causes of Peer Pressure

For peer pressure to occur, two fundamental parts must exist. Firstly, the pressuror(s). The individual or group applying the peer pressure. And, secondly, the pressuree(s). The person or persons the peer pressure is being applied towards. What generally causes peer pressure is (1) the pressurors will try to convince or influence the pressuree to do something that they otherwise wouldn't want to do. Some of the most common reasons why the pressuree will feel compelled to conform include:
  • A desire to be accepted.
  • A desire to 'fit in.'
  • The need for affiliation.
  • To avoid rejection.
In the moment, it can be difficult to know whether you are in a peer pressure situation as peer pressure can be disguised in many different ways. For instance, it can come across as being innocent with questions such as; "you wouldn't want to disappoint us would you?" Or, "you're not going to let us down are you?" Sometimes, peer pressure can also come across in the form of a challenge such as; "I bet you won't want to do it anyway." Or, "Like you could even if you wanted to." These are only some examples of common lines used to apply peer pressure against someone. While peer pressure can come across in other forms, if someone says any of the above lines to you, know that it's likely you are being pressured to do something for someone else.

There is More to it

Being accepted, having a sense of belonging, and avoiding rejection are human needs we all have. But, where does this stem from? Why do we show a strong tendency to conform to peer expectations? Well, the answer isn't as simple as it might seem. In fact, the reasons are multifaceted and complicated, to say the least. To help provide answers, one school of thought suggests the answer lies in our curiosity. For instance, if we examine the behavior of teenagers, curiosity is a key driver behind peer pressure. The online resource, for example, points to the fact that conforming to peer pressure stems from the tendency to be curious. Meaning, as young people become exposed to learning about sex, alcohol, and drug use, they become more curious leading them to want to find out for themselves.

Our Psychological Structures

Another school of thought suggests our psychological structures provide the answer. We all have psychological structures that we have formed and others that we have yet to clearly establish in our minds. Below are three key examples of psychological structures that, if established can greatly help us better deal with peer pressure in the future.
  • Failure to have clear boundaries.
  • Lack of strongly held beliefs.
  • Firm convictions over what is right and wrong.
Having well established all three above, however, won't guarantee you immunity from peer pressure in the future. But, it will provide you with a strong sense of what your limits are and what you believe in. Meaning, even with exceptional parents and a healthy home life, teens can be susceptible to the effects of peer pressure. As life under parental rule begins to clash more and more, the need to develop a personal identity strengthens. And, as a result, teens join peer groups in an attempt to grow more independent. "For teens, it becomes easier to relate to friends than to parents," states All Psychology Careers. This ability to relate and connect to one another lays the groundwork for peer pressure of all types.

The Effects of Peer Pressure

Conforming to the group norms, demonstrating commitment, and showing loyalty are all characteristics of peer pressure. We change so we can fit in, have a sense of belonging, and foster our own identity development. We conform to doing things to explore interests, curiosity, and ideologies about how the world works. But, how does this affect us? And, what exactly are the effects of peer pressure? Well, contrary to popular belief, the potential effects go beyond the realms of sex and drugs. For example, it can affect us in many ways including:
  • Academic / work performance.
  • Fashion choices.
  • Decisions regarding social groups.
  • Willingness to have a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Positive Peer Pressure

In extreme cases, negative peer pressure may coerce otherwise "good" adolescents to engage in criminal activity. However, the general effects of peer pressure don't necessarily have to be a bad thing. In other words, your peers may positively influence your academic performance. They may improve your sense of fashion. And, they may even push you to try something new you otherwise wouldn't have but find you actually enjoy or are good at. And, the same can be said for any other aspect of your life. For the better as well as for, the worse.

In the article The Effects of Peer Pressure on Teenagers, published on, Karen Kleinschmidt agrees with these sentiments by discussing ways in which teenagers can set positive examples for each other. For instance, to "pressure" one another to succeed. Karen states that "a teenager who is hesitant about joining the drama club might be more likely to take a chance when pressured by peers. If friends say, ‘come on, we're all joining’ or ‘you have natural talent. I think you would be perfect for that role,’ the teen's confidence may increase". Besides, who knows, by trying something you otherwise wouldn't you may find or develop a hidden talent you didn't know you have. Furthermore, it could also help to build self-confidence enabling you to go on to achieve many great things in your own life.

See also: How to Deal With Peer Pressure Like a Seasoned Pro.

Hear it from the Experts

I will admit, I'm no expert on peer pressure. I haven't studied it exhaustively, conducted experiments, nor written a lengthy thesis dissecting the how and why. However, I know just what it is like to be on both the giving and receiving end. I know what it feels like in the heat of the moment. And, I know how it can affect who I am and, ultimately, who I'll become. But, I don't just want you to hear it from me. Actually, I think you should hear it from the experts too!

So, to better understand the drivers and realities beyond what I know, I've picked out some of the best experts to help you understand the complexities and very true realities of peer pressure. I believe, by understanding the root causes of peer pressure and its potential effects, you too can learn to better choose your friends with care and make the most out of each social interaction you have. To learn more about both the positive and negative mechanisms of peer pressure, watch these great TED Talks by Leyla Bravo-Willey and Risa Berrin.

Leyla Bravo-Willey

Risa Berrin

Peer Pressure Test

Are you willing to give into Peer Pressure? Let's find out. Take this quick peer pressure test by answering the five questions below.
The social group you want to belong to is going to skip school to go to the mall. They say to you “Come on, it will be fun. You should come with us.” On the one hand, you know going will help show your loyalty to the group. However, on the other, you know your absence from school will be noted. What are you more likely to do?
  • Say yes, and go along with the group.
  • Say no, and be left behind.
Your boyfriend or girlfriend asks you to meet them late at night to drink alcohol. They tell you that they really want you to be there but, you have an exam the next morning. What are you likely to do?
  • Sneak out and meet them.
  • Tell them, no and disappoint them.
You are with a group of friends at a lake and everyone is jumping into the water from the rocks above. The group decides to climb to the highest point to jump from. You think it's a stupid idea and see both the risk and the potential danger involved. But, if you do it, you know it will win you likeability points. What are you likely to do?
  • Risk the climb and make the jump.
  • Stay behind and risk losing your credibility with the group.
How did you do? Did you conform to the peer pressure? Or, did you stick to your guns do what felt was right to you?

My Advice for You

When I’m asked; “what advice would you give to someone who struggles with peer pressure?” My answer is always the same. Set boundaries. Whether you are a teenager or an adult, we all need to have boundaries.  Clearly established boundaries, that we stick to, regardless of the situation, allow us and others to know exactly what our limits are. They help us to say “no” in situations that force us to say yes. And, equally important, boundaries help to protect us from harm (i.e. physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually).

If you would like to know more about boundaries, I recommend the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. While it is heavily geared to geared toward the Christian audience, the book is a beneficial read to anyone seeking clarity about "what's mine" and "what's yours." If you are unsure of your own boundaries and what boundaries are, the book also provides an in-depth discussion defining boundaries and how establishing boundaries can help keep us from being abused, manipulated, and to be taken advantage of.

Before You Go

This article is one of a 3-part series I've published on peer pressure. So, if you haven't read the previous article I recommend you also take a look. It's about answering the question: What is Peer Pressure? In that article, you will not only learn what peer pressure is—in today's day and age but, it will also explore how, over time, it has changed. Not to mention, it sets the stage for what is discussed here and for the following articles in this series. Remember, in this article you learned not only about the causes of peer pressure but also how to deal with the effects of peer pressure. While there are plenty of other great articles and resources available on the internet, I hope you will apply the practical knowledge you have learned here to your everyday life. Especially to help you in those 'high pressure' situations.

The Vulnerability of Teenagers

Finally, this post wouldn't be complete without recognizing the disproportionate impact the causes and effects of peer pressure can have upon teenagers. The website All Psychology Careers cites a study by Margo Gardner, and Laurence Steinberg entitled: Peer Influence on Risk Taking, Risk Preference, and Risky Decision Making in Adolescence and Adulthood. In the study, Gardner and Steinberg examined the effects of peer pressure through a computer driving simulation. A type of simulation designed to measure risky behavior.

The study separated experimental subjects into three groups: adolescents (with a mean age of 14), young people (with a mean age of 19), and adults (with a mean age of 37). The study found that young people took approximately 50 percent more risks in the presence of peers. While the behavior of adults changed little in the presence of peers. While there are a number of other studies that support the claim that teens and young adults are more vulnerable to peer pressure, it just takes a careful observation at your school, social group, or sports team to see that peer pressure occurs more often to teenagers than any other age group in our lifetimes.