Peer Pressure in Decision Making


Social Influence

Society has influences on the decisions we make as individuals

“The average man is a conformist, accepting miseries and disasters with the stoicism of a cow standing in the rain.” ~Colin Wilson

Human beings are social creatures who rely on the opinions of others to aid in their decision making. Think of Stanley Milgram’s experiments regarding obedience to authority. There are many ways in which peer-to-peer interactions affect the ways in which we function, but compliance and conformity are two fairly major causes of social influence.

There are 3 main goals that individuals have in the long term:

  • Accuracy – in that individuals seek practical, consistent actions that are reproducible, through the information they already have and the actions that they do. Think of it as a need to achieve goals effectively and with the greatest perceived reward.
  • Affiliation – in that individuals seek gratification that their actions ingratiate them with other individuals. Think of it as a need to create social relationships with others in a meaningful, maintainable manner.
  • Maintenance of a Positive Self-Impression – in that people have a constant want to increase their own self-awareness so that they can feel better about themselves. Think of it as a need to behave in a manner that boosts their pre-existing self image – through action, statement, belief etc.

There are a number of things that impact the choices we make – social norms, how much we like the people who’ve suggested the choice, how much we see the decision as a consensus, how much social approval we’re going to get etc. Think about the decisions you’ve made today – even something as small as what you wore will have been impacted by the social opinions of others. We elect not to stand out, and we elect to agree with what everyone else does.

To change societies opinion, we must bring options that don’t go against what the “tribe” want. Options that run in parallel to pre-existing ideas, that people can take on without standing out are most likely to cause changes in societies behaviours.

What do you think? Can you see these factors affecting the decisions you make on a day to day basis?

“New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already common.” ~John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding


Cialdini, R. B., & Goldstein, N. J. (2004). Social influence: Compliance and Conformity. Annual Review Pschology, 55, 591-621.

2 comments so far

  1. djasudasen on

    I find peer pressure an extremely interesting issue and I am quite aware that it is not something we leave behind in high-school.

    I recently returned to Australia after living in Singapore for 3 years. I am familiar with both cultures and feel like I have stepped out of one life, with its own social network and norms, into another life with a different group of friends and different social pressures.

    My life in Singapore was very social – lots of parties with which came drinking and smoking. I am a non-smoker but in my social circle, there is only one other non-smoker. The health issues surrounding the habit are enough to put me off. About a month before leaving Singapore, I found myself enjoying a cigarette or two on a night out. My excuse was, I’m moving to Australia soon so there is no way I will develop a habit.

    Arriving in a new country is stressful no matter how familiar your surroundings are. After a hectic day setting up bank accounts, phone lines, trying to find a place to live and so on, I found myself wanting a cigarette. Had I been in Singapore, I would not have questioned the decision to smoke. Being in Perth, there was no way I would touch a filthy cigarette. What if someone saw me? None of my friends in Perth smoke. What if they smelt it on me? Not acceptable!

    • osullivankate on

      I think that what you say about having “stepped out of one life…into another life” is really valid in this regard. What happens to our decision making processes when different groups of our friends have different sets of values etc, and hence we are stuck between opposing social norms?

      An example of this from my personal experience would be the decision to do OcSober last year – I didn’t drink for a month to raise money for charity. In that month I felt pressure from my actively alcoholic friends, but also the pressure to do right by those who had already donated money to the cause.

      It’s hard, but it’s interesting which pressures we prioritise.

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