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Beemer

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Peer Pressure [Mar. 10th, 2005|11:43 am]
Beemer
I was having a mental argument (which is the best kind, since they always turn out in your favor) with somebody (nobody reading this) this morning and I had a thought that seemed New and Interesting™. I think there are two kinds of peer pressure: positive, which says "you may", and negative, which says "you must".

In other words, with positive peer pressure, you observe your social surroundings and realize that something you had thought was forbidden is actually acceptable (at least to some people). What's interesting is that positive peer pressure only matters if it was something you were thinking about anyway. For example: I get lots of peer pressure telling me it's okay to go to a sports bar, spend lots of money on alcohol and bad hot wings, and watch hours and hours of college basketball. But since I have no inclination whatsoever to do that, the peer pressure is totally irrelevant. Likewise, when I was in high school, I experienced a lot of positive peer pressure with regard to various drugs. I never smoked any pot, but many of my friends did, and that was okay. I did get drunk once (while underage, gasp!), and that was okay, too.

Negative peer pressure, on the other hand, tells you that you must do something you'd rather not do or face social disapproval. You have to do something or you won't be socially accepted. Now, this shows up all over the place in very mild form having to do with "what's cool" in clothing or entertainment or whatever, but the really significant instance that springs to mind has to do with religion. I remember attending church (mormon) in middle school with my dad's family and feeling compelled to get up during fast and testimony meeting and say some nice things about the church. I did it with lots of mental caveats and unspoken reservations, but I did it because it was clear that that's what was expected.

It seems to me that whether positive peer pressure is good or bad depends entirely on the thing it's giving permission for. Negative peer pressure, on the other hand, is inherently a little bit bad, because it's coercive in nature. That can be counteracted by the moral quality of the action it's encouraging, but the negative peer pressure itself is, well, negative. For me, that's an interesting refinement of the messages we all got in school in the 80s, which was basically All Peer Pressure Is Bad (AndDon'tDoDrugsBecauseThey'reReallyBad).

I thought that was an interesting distinction, and I don't believe I've ever seen it made before.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2005-03-10 11:58 am (UTC)
This seems like a useful distinction.

I would also add the case of peer pressure that prevents you from doing something (as in, "abandoning your wife and children is WRONG!" or "stealing money from your friends is WRONG!").

Which I guess you would say is "inherently a little bad, because it's coercive in nature". I'd be inclined to disagree, personally, but I know where you're coming from here.
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[User Picture]From: drdeleto
2005-03-10 12:14 pm (UTC)
Right. It seems like maybe the best way to draw the distinction is between permissive and coercive social pressure (although "pressure" kinda implies the coercive type, but nevermind). Both, it seems to me, can be good or bad, depending. This is a very useful distinction, though, because the permissive (positive) type is subtle and goes largely unrecognized/unaddressed. I guess this is what people mean when they talk about some practice "sending the wrong/right message"?
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From: toosuto
2005-03-10 12:56 pm (UTC)
I guess this is what people mean when they talk about some practice "sending the wrong/right message"?

Exactly. At least I figure that's what people mean as they dig me out of the pile of bottles that I can't seem to get out from under of, as CPS is talking in hushed tones on their phone in the corner holding my baby.
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[User Picture]From: drdeleto
2005-03-10 01:04 pm (UTC)
Bah. You can't send the wrong message to infants! They're like little passive potatoes, and don't start learning anything until you tell them to. (We started way too early with Andrew. I'm not going to let the new baby start learning until kindergarten. Why should I teach my children? That's the teachers' job!)
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2005-03-10 01:23 pm (UTC)
you might do better to wait until their early 20s.
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[User Picture]From: drdeleto
2005-03-10 01:25 pm (UTC)
Well, someone has to teach them to walk before then, or they won't leave the house promptly at 18.
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2005-03-10 01:27 pm (UTC)
UPS is good for that.
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[User Picture]From: drdeleto
2005-03-10 01:37 pm (UTC)
Ooo. Hadn't thought of that. A little expensive, but I'll take it out of their college fund (also known as my spare change drawer).
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2005-03-10 08:21 pm (UTC)
Well, a negative action is still an action -- so that's just negative peer pressure saying "you must (not abandon your family)". Or positive peer pressure can say "it's okay to (not watch the superbowl)".

The coercion present in the pressure not to steal from your friends is, indeed, a little bit bad. Of course, the not stealing from your friends bit is a whole bunch good, so in the net it's still very much good.

Heck, all of civilization is coercive to one degree or another -- it's just that the benefits so vastly outweigh that little bit of badness that it's definitely worth it and far superior to the alternatives.

But yeah, we're basically in agreement.
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2005-03-10 09:28 pm (UTC)
1) If you consider avoidance-pressure a "you must X" instance, then your initial claim that unlike "you may X", "you must X" applies even if you weren't already considering it needs to be phrased more carefully. That is, "you must (not kick your dog)" is meaningful only if you wanted to.

2) What's bad about coercion?
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2005-03-11 09:19 pm (UTC)
1) Hmm, that's a good point. Probably worth splitting out must-nots as their own category, then.

2) A fine question, indeed! I should probably answer it sometime.

Half-assed answer: it's disrespectful of other people's worldviews, which is un-Golden-Rule-ish and therefore bad. I could elaborate more, but that's the core of it, I think.
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2005-03-14 10:41 am (UTC)
It's unGoldenRulish only if I don't want people trying to coerce me. If I'm OK with mutual attempts at coercion there's no GR-violation.
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2005-03-14 10:51 am (UTC)
I think that if you're okay with it, then by definition it's not really coercion, is it?
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2005-03-14 11:06 am (UTC)
Well, maybe I don't understand what you mean by coercion... which perhaps underlies my failing to understand why you consider it a bad thing.
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2005-03-14 09:19 pm (UTC)
Getting somebody to do something by force (or threat thereof)?
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2005-03-24 08:09 am (UTC)
Hurm.
Well, in that case, I simply disagree with the statement you made at the start of all this, that "peer pressure [is] coercive in nature."
Peer pressure, whether negative or positive, rarely involves force or the threat of force.

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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2005-03-10 01:25 pm (UTC)
Oh, and incidentally -- I often lose mental arguments. In the sense that nothing is resolved, and every participant ends the exchange thinking his opponent is something of a twit on the subject.

"No matter how many of me there are, none of us wants to do my math homework!"
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2005-03-10 02:11 pm (UTC)
I see that you are foolishly having mental arguments with yourself, rather than with your mental copies of other people.
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2005-03-10 02:23 pm (UTC)
Actually, I do both... in fact, I suppose I always do the latter, although sometimes it's with a Generic Other Person template rather than an actual instantiated model.
I also have long conversations with a model whose sole role in existence is to not quite understand what I mean by anything I've said, thereby encouraging me to explain everything carefully and in detail.
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2005-03-10 08:25 pm (UTC)
That sounds like a lot of work. I mean, clearly useful, but smacks of effort.
Sometimes I find it kinda satisfying to argue with a model whose sole role is to be not quite clever enough to refute things successfully. Not a very useful excercise (except for stress relief), but it can be fun.
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[User Picture]From: bryree
2005-03-10 03:41 pm (UTC)
Ahhh...but you see, there are those who would argue that the mental copies of other people are, in large part, aspects of yourself that agree with, or at least can concede the point of, said copies. Something to the effect of "If you didn't have/haven't had that in you, you couldn't relate to it/take its position at all." In essence, at some level you are indeed having the argument with yourself.

Discuss.
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[User Picture]From: thedragonweaver
2005-03-10 04:34 pm (UTC)
I would argue that the mental copies of other people are not reflections of yourself but rather portions of that other person that you understand.

To give an example, I had the most wonderful discussions with a co-worker during which we rarely agreed, but I was able to understand a little bit about his priorities. I understood that he put one value (i.e. safety) above another value (i.e. freedom) and that a lot of his view of the world stemmed from that. Now, in that example, I would put freedom above safety, which meant that in many political discussions I was coming from a different viewpoint.

If I were to have mental discussions with him, I could use that understanding to construct his answers. They might often be incorrect, but I would be working from an understanding rather than a sharing— and often, would be a POV I completely disagreed with.
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[User Picture]From: bryree
2005-03-12 09:52 pm (UTC)
Actually, I tend to fall in your camp, but the more I think about it and experience my self, the more weight I put on the idea. Not that those parts we disagree with are the whole of or even primary parts of our 'self,' but that something in me "gets it."

Example (that I don't much like to admit): When working at a golf course with several guys from Mexico, I would occasionally find myself (usually when I was very tired from being up too late and then getting to work at 5:30 am) grumbling about "why did I have to (pick up trash, work out in the rain, etc.) when those Mexicans have less education than me, etc., ad nauseum."

I will argue with my family and anybody else about overt/subtle racism and elitism toward the under-educated. I believe firmly that they are Not Desirable Things. I signed on for the same job they did. But when it comes right down to it, there is in me some echos (or perhaps some honest-to-goodness expressions) of both of those things I hate. Or to use your example, but not put words in your mouth, I would tend to value freedom over security (not sure what 'ratio' I would be comfortable with, but that's where I would land), but there is something in me that agrees with your co-worker and thinks that it might like security more than freedom, even if it is just the part of me that fears the unknown. Perhaps I only share a piece of it, but it is shared nonetheless.

Not saying it's true in every case, just that I notice it more than I'd like in myself.
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2005-03-10 08:26 pm (UTC)
It was in fact my father that I was arguing with, mentally. *sigh*
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2005-03-24 08:13 am (UTC)
Yeah, I hear that. One of the worst things for me about my dad's death was that I had a much worse relationship with his "ghost" in my head than I ever had with him. Happily, that seems to have been put to rest for some years now.
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[User Picture]From: thatwesguy
2005-03-10 07:16 pm (UTC)
Framing peer acceptance of your behavior as a kind of peer "pressure" is a new idea to me, and I think it's genuinely useful. There are significant ways in which I feel *way* behind the curve socially (for some social circles), and that sort of sucking sound as I catch up is usually the sound of personal growth in a direction I would not have seriously considered were it not for the generally successful example set by my friends.
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2005-03-10 08:27 pm (UTC)
I'm helpful! Yay! =)
Glad I could contribute something to your day.
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