Thu. Jul 25th, 2024

Peer Pressure Persists Through Adulthood

Summary: Adults, not just teens, face the challenges of peer pressure and social conformity. By surveying 157 adults aged 18 to 80, researchers discovered that younger adults are more susceptible to peer influence, whereas middle-aged and older individuals exhibit greater self-control.

This research, which explores everyday desires and their conflict with personal goals, demonstrates that resistance to social conformity increases with age, highlighting the complexity of self-regulation across the adult lifespan. The study’s findings challenge previous beliefs about peer pressure dissipating after adolescence, suggesting ongoing development in managing desires in social contexts.

Key Facts:

  1. Adult Susceptibility to Peer Pressure: The influence of peer pressure extends beyond adolescence into early adulthood, with younger adults more likely to succumb to social conformity.
  2. Greater Self-Control With Age: Middle-aged and older adults show a stronger ability to resist desires that conflict with personal goals, indicating an improvement in self-control as people age.
  3. Real-World Implications: The study focuses on common, everyday scenarios, shedding light on how individuals navigate desires like social media usage or indulging in treats in the presence of others, offering insights into behavioral patterns across different age groups.

Source: UT Dallas

The term “peer pressure” is often linked to experiences of children or teenagers in extreme situations. One University of Texas at Dallas researcher wondered if adults continue to succumb to similar pressures of social conformity in everyday situations.

Dr. Kendra Seaman, assistant professor of psychology in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS), and her colleagues recently examined the battle between self-control and peer pressure in the over-18 crowd.

In a study published Dec. 7 in Psychology and Aging, the researchers asked 157 adults ages 18 to 80 to respond to randomly timed surveys via text message in order to monitor participants’ self-control over spontaneous desires in daily life.

This shows a group of people.
Results showed that when desires were experienced in the presence of others enacting that desire, middle-aged and older adults were better at controlling their desires than younger adults. Credit: Neuroscience News

The researchers found that the influence of peer pressure continues into early adulthood, while middle-aged and older adults are better at controlling their desires.

Seaman, the senior author of the study and director of the Aging Well Lab at the Center for Vital Longevity at UT Dallas, said that susceptibility to peer pressure had been thought to peak in adolescence and gradually disappear in early adulthood.

“Most existing theories suggest that once you’re an adult, you’re good at resisting urges,” she said. “But we don’t know when or how people get there in early adulthood, and we don’t know how it develops across adulthood.”

While older people generally regulate emotions more effectively, indicating greater self-control and resistance to conformity pressures, Seaman said they also face a new set of priorities that might make it more difficult to resist such influences, especially as they observe their peers partaking.

“As we age, the dilemmas we face change,” she said. “Should I have a slice of chocolate cake at my niece’s birthday party if I’m trying to lose weight? Should I grab an expensive latte with co-workers if I’m trying to save money?”

Study participants were asked if they had experienced a craving or desire in the last three hours. If they said yes, there were follow-up questions: Did the desire conflict with personal goals, such as healthy living or saving money? Were other people around them during this event? Did they follow the urge to participate? They were also asked to judge the scale of both the urge and the conflict.

Results showed that when desires were experienced in the presence of others enacting that desire, middle-aged and older adults were better at controlling their desires than younger adults.

“While we all know that there is a steep developmental curve for self-control during adolescence, that’s not the end of the story,” Seaman said.

“Consistent with other studies on emotion regulation improving with age, these results indicate that resistance to social-conformity pressure grows across the adult lifespan.”

Seaman said the research addressed largely unexplored facets of peer pressure.

“Almost all of the studies done on adolescents focus on risky activities: binge drinking, unprotected sex and so on,” she said. “This study is about much more mundane urges: having a glass of wine or checking social media, for instance.”

The study also focused on immediate memories, which are more reliable than recollections of experiences.

“Other studies have asked people to think across the last week, month or year,” she said. “We’re removing that long-term memory component and only doing experience sampling, asking about events in the last three hours, capturing people as they go about their day.”

Social conformity and self-control across adult life is a relatively new frontier in human behavior research, Seaman said.

“Our results reveal that adult age-related differences partially explain sensitivity to social-conformity pressure in real-world self-control decisions. Younger adults are less successful at regulating desires when others are around enacting those desires,” she said.

“While other studies suggest that this influence nearly disappears after late adolescence, we find it here — though more limited — in young adulthood and even in middle age.”

Dr. Jaime Castrellon, currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, was the lead author of the study, which also involved researchers from Duke University School of Medicine and Vanderbilt University.

Funding: The research was supported by grants from the National Institute on Aging (R01-AG044838, R01-AG043458) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R21-DA033611), both components of the National Institutes of Health.

About this social behavior and psychology research news

Author: Stephen Fontenot
Source: UT Dallas
Contact: Stephen Fontenot – UT Dallas
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
Adult age-related differences in susceptibility to social conformity pressures in self-control over daily desires” by Kendra Seaman et al. Psychology and Aging


Abstract

Adult age-related differences in susceptibility to social conformity pressures in self-control over daily desires

Developmental literature suggests that susceptibility to social conformity pressure peaks in adolescence and disappears with maturity into early adulthood.

Predictions about these behaviors are less clear for middle-aged and older adults. On the one hand, while age-related increases in prioritization of socioemotional goals might predict greater susceptibility to social conformity pressures, aging is also associated with enhanced emotion regulation that could support resistance to conformity pressures.

In this exploratory research study, we used mobile experience sampling surveys to naturalistically track how 157 healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 80 practice self-control over spontaneous desires in daily life. Many of these desires were experienced in the presence of others enacting that desire.

Results showed that middle-aged and older adults were better at controlling their desires than younger adults when desires were experienced in the presence of others enacting that desire.

Consistent with the literature on improved emotion regulation with age, these results provide evidence that the ability to resist social conformity pressure is enhanced across the adult life span.

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