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October 23, 2009

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Jeffrey Krames

Thank you for this excellent piece and observation. It makes perfect sense and I can envision other areas in which peer behavior would have a direct effect on others.
---Jeffrey Krames at jeffreykrames.com

John Meredith

The common room experiment shows that people adapt their behaviour to their environment, not to their peer group. If a room is already untidy, your small contribution to the genral untidiness will not significantly degrade it, and so the incentive to make the effort to dispose of litter carefully is decreased or eliminated. That is not to say that there is no peer effect (there obviously is in many cases) but this experiment does not show it.

Nick

I would suggest removing convicted criminals from communities for long periods of time (you know, prison!). Not just to protect the community, but also to prevent them from influencing peers.

Tom

"Not just to protect the community, but also to prevent them from influencing peers."

Am I the only one who spots that the problem is that a lot of criminals end up in a peer situation, albeit behind bars? I'd have thought the last thing you want to do to a small-time vandal is lock him 23 hours a day with hardened villains, if the peer theory holds true.

tom s

"Doesn’t peer pressure research require us to reconsider our views about the nature and scope of individuals’ responsibility?"

Tempted to say "if you do I will too".

"over-50s seem more prone to peer effects than others" - I blame this on the serenity prayer: the scope of things we believe we cannot change increases with age, until we believe we can't even change the state of the papers in the common room. Littering is simply "knowing the difference".

Phil

"This corroborates the broken windows theory."

No, it doesn't. The BW model takes the idea of a spiral of environmental degradation as its *starting-point*; the model itself is about metaphorical rather than real broken windows (public drunkenness etc). It's not about drunks attracting more drunks, either; it uses a long and rickety causal chain - more drunks = an unpleasant atmosphere on the street = fewer respectable people on the street = more opportunities for crime = more crime. I don't find it very persuasive, as it goes.

Laura

We have been conducting that experiment at my place of work for years - when someone leaves washing up in the kitchen sink (even a teaspoon), suddenly you find lots of washing up in the sink. When the sink is kept clear, it stays clear. The really rare situation is for a single item in the sink to stay there without attracting further washing up for company.

Diversity

Yes. Every piece of research that I have seen on this subject - they all have pointed the same way - has influenced my view of individual responsibility.

The more my fellows are influenced by their peers, the greater is my individual responsibility to set an example.

Straus

The experiment as presented appears to show not the effects of peer pressure, but the ability of an outside agency to influence the behaviour of an established group. I would infer from the results that the academics were not a tidy lot. A figure of 18 per cent for people littering a tidy room seems quite high and suggests there was an existing tendency to litter. If this is so, then the act of tidying the room may have had quite a significant impact in moderating this tendency. However, the number of people littering the tidy room is still quite high, which suggests that the effects of the intervention will only be temporary. Accordingly, expensive projects that create pretty public spaces for troubled communities will fail unless they are reinforced by initiatives to foster a sense of civic responsibility. Ideally, these should come from within the communities themselves.

Tom Addison

"Am I the only one who spots that the problem is that a lot of criminals end up in a peer situation, albeit behind bars? I'd have thought the last thing you want to do to a small-time vandal is lock him 23 hours a day with hardened villains, if the peer theory holds true."

Absolutely spot on. It's hard to believe, but when people come out of prison (depending on what type of criminal they are, but if you think of the scum-of-the-Earth chav types who've probably kicked the sh** out of someone for no reason), they tend to have a whiff of arrogance about themselves, as if, "All you fools in the outside world, my eyes have been opened on the inside." Can you imagine it, all those idiots confirming each others beliefs about, "The fools on the outside with jobs and mortgages and wives and families, they're sad fu***** with no lives etc etc."

What's it called out, group confirmation bias? Anyway, what I'm getting at is that that happens in prison, and what they're confirming is that their attitude and way of life (not working, doing drugs, getting rat-arsed most days, fighting, "living each day like it's your last", supporting the BNP) is superior to being a decent person and doing your part.

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