When Peer Pressure Works
Credit: Konstantin Chagin | Shutterstock

Sometimes, going with the flow can be good for business. That’s the bottom line on new research that looks at how people work in groups.

"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.

Simply put, researchers found that individuals will amplify the normal behaviors already present in a group when they go along with behaviors of other members.  For example, groups of co-workers or philanthropists will be encouraged to engage in positive behaviors already promoted within the group. On the other hand, groups such as gangs will be promoted to continue engaging in negative behaviors.  

In both cases, participants reported nearly identical levels of attachment to the group, and then continued to follow the norm in subsequent interactions," Irwin said.

In addition to those findings, Irwin, who co-authored the study with Brent Simpson of the University of South Carolina, found that conforming to the normal behaviors of a group creates positive feelings for individuals within a group. Those positive feelings can be attributed to the fact that individuals are acting in agreement with other group members and therefore have positive feelings about the group as a whole.  

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, which publishes the sociology journal Social Forces.

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