No one makes it into the history books by following the rules, but from the day we’re born we’re taught the importance of agreeing with others. It’s a tricky balancing act that each of us has to perform.
From the first day of kindergarten, we’re inundated with social pressures. Whether or not we give in determines how well we're integrated into the group, and inclusion in the "in group" is important in modern society.
Recent sociological research conducted at Baylor University explored how people perform inside groups, and found that caving into social pressure—by claiming to like The Smiths just because your friends do, for example—makes people happy about belonging to a group, regardless of the group's purpose.
“The punch line is very simple: conformity leads to positive feelings, attachments, solidarity—and these are what motivate people to continue their behavior,” said Kyle Irwin, an assistant professor of sociology at Baylor and lead author of the study published in the journal Social Forces.
How Much We’ll Sacrifice for the Common Good
Researchers explored conformity and contributions to the greater good, and found that it doesn’t matter if people are asked to make sacrifices or to “slack off” because no matter what is expected of them, following the norms of the group creates the same feelings of group attachment.
This can be a positive attribute of groups, when it leads you to participate the democratic voting process, for example, but it also can lead to a continuation of negative behavior, such as participation in a criminal gang.
Researchers tested their group attachment theory by giving people “points” and having them decide how many to share with the group and how many to keep for themselves. They found that those who contributed the most in high-performing groups (in which others also gave the most) had the highest positive feelings toward the group, even though they were interacting with total strangers.
“If we're getting these results in this artificial context, think how much stronger it might be with people who know each other and have some sort of interaction history," Irwin said.
How Your Friends Can Influence Your GPA
No one’s mother wants her children hanging out with “the wrong crowd,” and with good reason.
New research lead by Hiroki Sayama, director of the Collective Dynamic of Complex Systems at Binghamton University, studied high school students' academic performance based on the crowds they hung out with.
Sayama found that if a student spent time with others with a higher GPA their own, the student's academic achievement rose within the next year.
The opposite was true as well. Students who socialized regularly with those with lower GPAs saw a decrease in their GPAs too.
“While most educators already know the importance of social environment for a student’s academic success, our study presents the first quantitative supporting evidence for such empirical knowledge,” according to the study, published in the journal PLOS ONE.