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What are the advantages and disadvantages of peer pressure?



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Peer pressure happens when an individual is influenced to behave a certain way, or adopt certain beliefs, because he or she feels the need to conform.

Some disadvantages of peer pressure are well known. In order to conform, people may engage in self-destructive behavior, like smoking cigarettes or abusing drugs. They might blow off important academic opportunities (in order to impress anti-academic friends), or refuse to accept help (because peers would be critical).

Social pressure can also encourage an individual to make choices that benefit him or her. If your peer group values good health, you might feel pressured to eat a healthful diet or stay physically fit. If your peer group values academic achievement, peer pressure might encourage you to study harder and get ahead in school.

When we talk about advantages and disadvantages, we need to be more specific. Advantages and disadvantages for whom? Peer pressure doesn't just affect the individual who conforms. It also affects other group members, and the group as a whole. Often, the same act of conformity has different effects, depending on which party we have in mind.

For example, under the influence of peer pressure, you might donate money that you cannot afford to give to a public cause you don't really believe in. From the standpoint of the community as a whole, the social pressure is advantageous. From your perspective, though, it is disadvantageous.

There are also cases where peer pressure is simply a mechanism that helps people achieve a group identity or avoid chaotic social interactions. The results are advantageous, but only relative to those goals. For instance, you might experience peer pressure to use certain slang terms when speaking to fellow members of a social clique. There's nothing intrinsically beneficial or harmful about using those particular words, but it helps you signal to others that you belong to the in-group, and it helps the group set itself apart from other groups.

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Although we typically think of peer pressure as a negative thing, it can be a positive when peers pressure others towards positive goals.

When we talk about peer pressure, we are generally referring only to the negative aspects of that pressure.  There are many such negatives.  The most important negative is that people (and youths in particular) are often pushed towards behaviors that are destructive or risky.  These are behaviors that the people would not have engaged in had they not been pressured.  With regard to teens, the most common negative behaviors associated with peer pressure are things like drug or alcohol use, and sexual activity.

However, peer pressure is also something that we laud whenever people are being pressured towards goals that we think are valuable.  In high school sports, coaches typically hope that peer pressure from teammates will cause individuals to work and play hard or to keep their grades up so that they can remain eligible to play.   The same type of dynamic can occur in a work setting for older people.

Thus, while all peer pressure does try to alter people’s behaviors, some of the time those alterations can be for the good and not the bad.

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