A classic parental or teacher reply when you wanted to do something they deemed foolish: “If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you?” This well-known rhetorical question is meant to test the power of social influence or peer pressure. While most eventually learn that reflexively following others’ actions and behaviors can be damaging in the long-run, it doesn’t mean we avoid it altogether. Different types of peer pressure can make it difficult to decipher our choices from peers in our close social circles.
Peer pressure can be a driving force in influencing decisions and habits, especially those related to alcohol and drugs. As substance abuse issues continue to soar nationwide, psychologists and drug treatment specialists continue to explore preventive care options. It means tackling the problem of peer pressure, a topic that—although widely acknowledged as problematic—is not easily understood.
What is Peer Pressure?
A theory in psychology known as “Social Learning Theory” hypothesizes that the learning process, as well as new behaviors, are acquired by observing and imitating others. Simply put, we learn from those within our close circles by merely interacting with these groups whether it be parents, teachers, friends, peers, co-workers, influencers, or celebrities.,
How do the different types of peer pressure fit into this theory? They conclude that there are three mechanisms triggered when interacting with peers. These include:
1. Social Reinforcement
It’s common to experience social reinforcement daily. This process refers to reinforcers that help provide cues or signals to individuals that their behavior is recognized. It can include:
While different types of peer pressure may, on the surface, appear to be a negative attribute, they still play a vital role in everyday life and can be beneficial and even positive. This largely depends on whom we surround ourselves. Additionally, psychological studies conclude that social reinforcement is more pronounced among peers directly connected to us. For example, a best friends’ advice versus advice from a well-known celebrity.
Positive social interactions will often provide confidence to individuals. However, it’s more complicated when the reinforced behavior is primarily negative, such as detrimental habits like smoking, drinking, or misusing drugs.
2. Modeling Behavior
In psychology, this concept is just as its name implies, referring to behavior molded by others’ actions. Four components contribute to modeling behavior, which includes:
- Attention – an observer must watch and pay attention to selective behaviors of peers
- Retention – the observer must be able to recall the behavior well enough to recreate it
- Reproduction – an observer will recreate the actions
- Reinforcement – the observer’s behavior is reinforced, mostly through acceptance or praise
A simplified explanation can be summed up by the cliché monkey see, monkey do. It’s imperative to surround yourself with peers driven by positive outcomes who can, for example, remain calm in highly stressful situations or who seek to lead healthy lifestyles.
3. Cognitive Processes
The theory of cognitive processing can be difficult to grasp as it holds many nuances and depends on a large variety of factors. The idea is that there is a correlation between a developing brain and its potential to be more influenced by peer pressure, particularly when it addresses risky behavior. Basically, the mind is more likely to be swayed toward risky behavior during adolescence.
As the cognitive control system becomes more mature, it is more capable of flexible responses and creating its own complex goal-oriented thoughts. Older individuals are better equipped to self-regulate emotions and fears, particularly when faced with extreme pressure from social circles.
Research continues to explore how cognitive processing integrates with different types of peer pressure. What’s certain is that, since adolescents are more influenced by family, friends, and other acquaintances, they require more guidance in handling various peer pressure scenarios. A few tips on dealing with different types of peer pressure include:
- Building self-confidence through various therapies and nurturing positive outlooks
- Making plans that address specific risky situations and how to handle them
- Provide positive reinforcement to actions that are good, healthy, and overall goal-oriented
- Create an open dialogue that allows younger generations to voice concerns and negative feelings associated with specific peer pressure
Different Types of Peer Pressure
Suffice it to say that not all peer pressure is bad. In order to interact with the world, we have to develop social cues and skills that allow us to easily adapt to our environments at home, school, work, and in public. It’s quite literally human nature. Peer pressure can be beneficial when it offers encouragement, positive feedback or advice, or provides a prompt to consider new experiences.
However, there are different types of peer pressure, and not all are created equal. Below is the list of what many of us face daily:
1. Spoken Peer Pressure
This involves a person directly asking, suggesting, persuading, or otherwise directing a person to behave a certain way or take action in a specific manner. In most cases, if the person receiving such ‘spoken’ peer pressure is dealing with it one-on-one, they have a higher chance of making choices based on personal observations, experiences, and intuition. However, suppose a recipient is instructed to do something in a larger group. In that case, the pressure to conform to a group’s opinion is immense, even when those views directly oppose personal beliefs and values.
2. Unspoken Peer Pressure
In a group setting, decisions that are made together can influence the actions of others, even without direct instructions. If an individual is among a group that chooses to break curfew, that individual may feel pressured to follow along simply to fit in. As previously mentioned, many teens lack the mental maturity to control impulses that would allow them to consider long-term consequences more quickly.
3. Direct Peer Pressure
Among the different types of peer pressure, direct influences may be among the most powerful. Direct peer pressure can either be spoken or unspoken, and it can include forcing a person to choose a path based on what is directly presented to them. One example is being handed a beer at a party even if it wasn’t requested. The implication is that drinking beer is not an option but rather a requirement. Furthermore, making on-the-spot decisions can be a source of extreme pressure and stress. Under these circumstances, many disregard their own views to fit in or to avoid being rude.
4. Indirect Peer Pressure
Indirect peer pressure can be difficult to spot. Like unspoken peer pressure, it can exert a tremendous amount of influence on an impressionable individual. A person’s personal view of a behavior, thought, or situation may be drastically impacted by the popular opinion of a larger, more highly regarded group. For example, a popular clique that bullies others. Some may conclude that bullying is okay if used in such a way to fit in with a larger crowd. Similarly, a person may consider risky behavior when in pursuit of gaining acceptance.
5. Negative/Positive Peer Pressure
Negative and positive influences deploy the same types of peer pressure mechanisms but result in vastly different outcomes. Negative peer pressure challenges moral code and beliefs, which can drastically impact a person’s mental and physical health, and emotional stability. Additionally, it can cause turmoil with personal relationships, undermine self-confidence, and increase the chances of developing dangerous habits like substance abuse. Negative peer pressure usually involves influence that sways people toward risky activity such as criminal behavior, underage drinking, drug use, and an overall unhealthy lifestyle.
Positive peer pressure, on the other hand, has the opposite effect. It can prove to be beneficial. In this specific type of peer pressure, individuals can and may adopt good traits from their social circles, leading to success and wellbeing. These types of influences can deter drug and alcohol use and promote mental wellness. This type of peer pressure can also inspire determination, focus, goal-setting, strategic planning, and hard work. The concept is fairly simple: surround yourself with the right people and discover a renewed sense of motivation.
Responding to Different Types of Peer Pressure
Peer pressure is difficult to measure because every person is different. We interpret our lives through our own unique lens and, therefore, make choices based on our convictions. However, even these core belief systems are vulnerable to outside influence, whether from family, friends, or other acquaintances.
While everyone experiences peer pressure, adolescents experience it far more often. How should you respond to peer pressure? Here are a few tips to consider:
- Consider avoiding people that make you feel uncomfortable.
- Question how you’re feeling about certain situations as often as possible
- Be honest about how you truly feel.
- Learn to recognize unhealthy dynamics.
- Spend more time with people who influence you in positive ways.
- Practice saying no.
- Find friends who support health and wellbeing.
- Stand up for others when you see someone else being pressured.
- Ask for help
Here are some additional tips and resources on various types of peer pressure for teens:
Peer Pressure: Alcohol and Drugs
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teens ages 12 to 20 account for 11% of total alcohol consumption in the U.S. The influence of peers is a major contributing factor to underage drinking. Unfortunately, each year, excessive drinking claims more than 3,500 lives for people under 21. By the 12th grade, about two-thirds of students have tried alcohol.
About half of all high schoolers report using illegal drugs. Additionally, about 2 out of 10 high school seniors will use prescription medicine without a prescription. Marijuana and cigarettes are heavily used among teenagers. Why is this significant? Studies prove that the younger a person is when they begin using alcohol or drugs, the more likely they are to relapse and develop a substance use disorder or addiction later in life. Consequently, alcohol and drug programs are integrating preventative measures to help teenagers avoid the various types of peer pressure surrounding drugs and alcohol.
In today’s social media charged world, peer pressure is taking on a more prominent role. Consider viral images and videos that can easily sway beliefs and shift personal views in a matter of minutes. There’s also unrealistic standards, especially those discussing physical appearance. The risks of negative peer pressure are high, so it’s critical to educate our youth on methods of handling various types of influences. However, the reality is that peer pressure does.
AspenRidge Recovery offers assistance to individuals who are facing the onset of substance use issues. We can also offer support to family members who are struggling with the issues that surround addiction. Peer pressure is a real concern and an issue that many of us face, sometimes on a daily basis. Learning strategies and tools that can help manage different types of peer pressure can reduce the risk of developing substance use disorders.
Our Colorado addiction care centers offer support for those facing substance dependency. Our certified clinicians have experience addressing all symptoms within the spectrum of addiction. Programs include:
- Day Partial Hospitalization (PHP)
- Day Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)
- AspenRidge REACH Online IOP
- IOP for Professionals and Working Adults
- Outpatient Program
- Alumni & Aftercare Program
Contact AspenRidge Recovery Centers at 855-678-3144 to speak to staff about various programs and treatment methods for alcohol, drug, and other co-occurring disorders.