All of us have experienced peer pressure at some point during our life. We conform to social routines, even when they seem arbitrary or even against our usual nature, because we want to “fit in”. It’s a critical part of learning group behavior; we observe how other group members act, and what they seem to expect from others, and adjust our behavior to match. It’s a normal part of adult life and it seems quite natural, although in some cases it can lead to alienation and feelings of inferiority and uncertainty.
Researchers are now learning that it’s not just teenagers and adults who go through this complex peer-to-peer “feeling out” period. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (in collaboration with the Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmeges) began studying this behavior in four-year olds and reached an interesting conclusion. The research data suggests that pre-school children are not immune to this phenomenon; they are already busy confirming their public behavior to match what the majority of their peers thinks to be the proper response.
The study looked at a total of 96 four-year-old kindergartners and used books with illustrations of animals inside. However, while most books were identical, some had images missing from the illustrations. When the children were divided into groups to read the story, the researchers asked them to identify, for example, “the third animal on the second page”. While most of the children correctly recalled the animal, as it was printed in their copy, about a quarter of the children didn’t have a third animal on the second page in their version of the book. Yet, 75% conformed to the majority opinion of the group – even though they knew that what they were saying wasn’t true – in order to avoid conflict with their peer group.
This study is important, as it shows that even toddlers are susceptible to social pressure and are willing to “go with the flow” rather than go against the majority opinion of their peers.
The source for the above article can be found at: Daniel, B.; M. Haun; Michael Tomasello. Conformity to Peer Pressure in Preschool Children. Child Development 2001. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01666.x