Why you do things you don’t want to.

The hidden psychology of peer pressure.

The first and only time was a mistake.

It was wrong of me. My heart was pounding. I should have known better. The signs had been there all along.

Or maybe it wasn’t a mistake. Maybe I knew exactly what I was doing.

Either way, I didn’t expect the outcome.

And I definitely hadn’t meant to pour the cereal before the powdered milk.

But in my defence, a friend had made it look like such a good idea.

Jokes aside, peer pressure is something we’re all probably aware of, especially because it often comes with negative connotations.

But what if it has a very credible basis?

I.

In the 1950s, the (now sometimes controversial) Conformity Experiment was conducted by the social psychologist Solomon Asch. Testing a group of volunteer participants, each one was supposed to decide on which line was similar to which, kind of like in optical illusions. Except this answer was painfully obvious.

Unbeknown to the actual participants, the majority of the others were actors who were to pick the wrong answer intentionally. To make this even more interesting, the real participant had to give his/her answer last.

There were 18 trials in all and you wouldn’t believe the results.

A whooping 12 went with the wrong answer even when they clearly knew the right answer!

Upon completion, when asked, the real participants admitted that they simply feared being ridiculed and thought of differently.

🧠 Catch up with last weekend’s issue on Why We Always Want More here.

II.

If we go by the theories of evolution, being a member of the tribe was super important. It didn’t only stroke our fragile egos, but it was expedient for literal survival. Getting ostracised from the group for being “too different” meant being vulnerable to predators (human or otherwise).

But also, we’re social creatures (introvert, extrovert or somewhere in between). It’s how children start off learning by imitation. Observation is a key tool.

It’s not farfetched to want to follow the path of least resistance, to go with the crowd.

It’s why folks who “do things differently” in the unconventional way are often lauded. This signals to us that they must be extremely brave.

(Un)fortunately, with social media, many “groups” abound. As one must also make sure to not fall into the black hole of an echo chamber.

The digital space and its lack of nuances can probably be a separate topic alone but my point here is how easy it is to fall into groupthink, regardless of logic or even contradicting emotions.

Thankfully, the fact that a handful of the participants didn’t conform is a good sign that it’s not impossible to break out of a wrong groupthink.

III.

What I probably find most interesting is how this doesn’t end with teenagehood as most would like to believe. This is what a lot of the research I found on this topic focused on. This is for good reason because younger people are more vulnerable to impressionability. 

But I think it’s important for adults to keep tabs on this as well.

And apart from having personal values and growing a curiosity mindset so as to have a mind of our own, maybe what’s more important is simply being mindful of the company we keep.


A huge thank you to everyone who responded to my previous spontaneous email while I was on a road trip. It was truly heartwarming and it’s amazing to meet you all.

You can still reply if you haven’t. 

juolapee@gmail.com

P.S., you don’t have to answer the questions listed; they’re just prompts, if needed.