What would you do if you were in a waiting room and smoke began to come through the vents? Before you answer, you should ask who is in the room with you. Astoundingly, researchers have found that who is in the room with you greatly affects your response to this odd situation. Scientists, Latane and Darley set-up three different groups. As each group filled-out papers in a waiting room, smoke would fill the room through an air vent. In the first group, there was only one subject in the room and he or she left and reported the smoke 75% of the time. In the second group three people were in the room, but two of the people were part of the study and were instructed to act unconcerned. In this scenario, only 10% of the unknowing person reported the smoke and left the room! In the third group, none of the three participants in the waiting room knew about the experiment and 38% of them left and reported the smoke.
I think this experiment adds a new dimension to peer pressure. Often times, we focus on peer pressure as a demand from friends to do something. This experiment talks about the peer pressure to not do something. As teens and kids, I think we experienced peer pressure to take ‘bad’ action—smoke, drink, party or have sex. Yet, as adults we still feel peer pressure, but often times it is to not take ‘good’ action—not quit our jobs, not try something new, not get commit.
The reason adult peer pressure is about not taking action, is because as we get older we fear change. Not only do we fear change for ourselves, we also fear it for our friends because if they change we might have to! The experiment above is actually quite scary. It shows how differently we act when there are other people in the room. These people were unspeaking strangers! Imagine if you have verbal friends telling you not to do something. Sometimes this kind of peer pressure can be good—perhaps a friend discouraging another friend from quitting her job to become an actress. But, like in the study, it can also be peer pressure to not act out of our own best interest. If smoke is filling the room, it is in our best interest to get out. I think it is essential to think about our actions and our friend’s encouragement (or discouragement) and challenge whether or not it is truly good for us. Do you ever experience adult peer pressure?
Latane, Bibb and John M. Darley. “Group inhibition of bystander intervention in emergencies.” Journal of personality and social psychology. Vol 10 (3) 1968, 215-221.