What is Negative Peer Pressure, and have our students experience it yet?

What is negative peer pressure? Well, to put it in simple terms it’s when your friends influence you to do something that normally you wouldn’t do by yourself. In less simple terms, it’s when an individual adopts harmful habits, like smoking and drinking alcohol, to feel like they are accepted in a social group and belong there. Your friend doesn’t need to force you to do something (external force), but that you may feel obligated to do it (internal force), even when your friend just asks, “Hey, you want a beer?” In this instance, you can still say no. But if you are experiencing internal pressure, you feel like you are compelled to do it or lose your social stature.[1] 

Illustration of a Paper Doll Coloring Itself the Same Color as Everyone Else. (Peer Pressure Concept)

So why would you feel like you have to do it? Well, a group of researchers and scientists at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, led by Georgio Coricelli, may have come up with an answer in 2011. They created an experiment where a group of participants would only win a lottery alone, while another group would win it while their friend was nearby (like in the same room). The researchers measure the region of the brain associated with emotional responses to see its reaction.[2] 

After the results of the test’s sixty participants were finalized, they found out that the striatum (associated with the rewarding feeling with gambling, etc) is responsible for your internal and external pressure sensation. They find out that the striatum shows higher activity when the participant beats a peer in the lottery, compared to those that win alone. This effect can be seen in both sexes, and age groups. Along with that, the prefrontal cortex (associated with social reasoning/self-regulation in a social group) was more active, meaning that they tend to do more risky things in a social setting, since to them, the result is weighted enough (the striatum give out a lot of stress-relieving hormones)  compared to the consequences (miscalculated by your prefrontal cortex). [2]

Doctor. Georgio Coricelli, professor of economics and psychology at the University of Southern California | Source: jdmx19.neocities.org

Dr. Coricelli, head researcher of the experiment, came up with an explanation for our brain’s weird activity for responding to both negative and positive peer pressure. “These findings suggest that the brain is equipped with the ability to detect and encode social signals, make social signals salient, and then, use these signals to optimize future behavior,” Coricelli said. To put it in simple terms, it means your brain can detect social signals, and then calculate the risk of following that signal. After that, the brain will choose the optimal option (more results, less risk). But as stated earlier, in a social context, your prefrontal cortex is more likely to miscalculate the risk, versus when it isn’t in one. So Coricelli explained that even in hunter-gatherer times, an individual who is in a smaller tribe or even alone is more likely to die, especially when it comes to risky decision-making. However, in large social groups, people are more secure and protected from predators. Those that show a higher social stature (leaders and those that are more risk-taking) had a larger share of the gathered food and mates respect from others. These are aspects that are essential for survival and reproduction. Even in other parts of the animal kingdom, this phenomenon is prevalent. This social benefit of being accepted and respected is still present today.[2]

The human’s striatum | Source: kenhub.com

So let’s see if this phenomenon exists in our school. About 20 students participated in this research poll. I ask them if they have experienced negative peer pressure recently or regularly or not. Around 17 out of 20 (85%) said that they haven’t experienced it, while the other three did, with minor pressure of needing to show off-grade superiority (being obligated to help with others’ homework). 

Here are some examples of negative peer pressure: [3]

  1. Needing to dress or act a certain way.
  2. Cheating or copying someone else’s work or letting others copy your work.
  3. Not including certain people in social activities.
  4. Taking dangerous risks when driving.
  5. Using drugs or alcohol.
  6. Shoplifting or stealing.
  7. Engaging in sexual activity.
  8. Engaging in bullying or cyberbullying.
  9. Projecting a misleading/false image on social media.

To avoid negative peer pressure, here are some strategies you can follow:

  • Pay attention to how you feel. If something doesn’t feel right about a situation, it probably isn’t. Even if your friends seem ok with what is going on, the situation may not be right for you.
  • Plan ahead. Think about how you will respond in different situations. Plan what you can say or what you can do.
  • Talk to the person who is pressuring, let him or her know how it makes you feel, and tell the person to stop.
  • Have a secret code to communicate with parents. Something you can say or text to your parent(s) that lets them know you need out of a situation. Parents can either call or text to say that you need to come home, or that they need to pick you up.
  • Give an excuse. It should be ok to say “no” without needing to apologize or give an explanation.  But it may make it easier to say no if you have a reason ready. For example, you can say that you have a medical condition that makes it dangerous for you to do certain things, like drinking alcohol. Or even stating that your parents need you to come home if you feel it would be best to leave the situation altogether.
  • Have friends with similar values and beliefs.  It is easier to say “no” if someone else is also saying it.  Saying “no” together makes it easier for the both of you.
  • Get support from a trusted adult such as a parent, teacher, or school counselor.  A trusted adult can listen to you and help you with strategies that might work in your situation.

Sources: 

  1. What are The 6 Type of Peer Pressure
  2. Peer pressure? It’s hardwired into our brains, study finds
  3. How to Handle Peer Pressure
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Hiiiiiiiii, my name is Alec Ngo. You are lucky that I kept it short, my full name is Ngo Tran Gia Khanh. I’m a first-year student here at Arroyo Pacific Academy and a first-time journalist too. You can basically expect news from me that is in the genre of International news, politically related topics, and sometimes student-life orientated research. I’m not gonna tell anything more about me. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯