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Peer Pressure Can Reduce Prejudice

A group of gay-straight alliance students hold a banner in a pride parade

Problem

Teens are notoriously intolerant of people who do not think, act, or look like them.

Solution

When just one teen stands up to prejudice, his or her peers often follow suit…

Details

Social psychologist Elizabeth Paluck and her colleagues, in partnership with the Anti-Defamation League, recruited and trained 144 students from 10 high schools to model anti-prejudice attitudes and behaviors over a 5-month period. These students, known as Peer Trainers, learned to respond to name-calling and other prejudiced behavior by speaking directly to the offender, making their disapproval known,  calling an adult to intervene, and offering support to the target of the prejudice.
 
The research team randomly assigned Peer Trainers from half of the schools to begin training in the fall (the treatment group), while the other half did not begin training until the spring (a so-called “wait-listed control" group). At the end of the fall semester, Paluck and her colleagues interviewed hundreds of students from the Peer Trainers’ social networks about prejudice at their schools. They also invited the students to add their names to a public gay rights petition.
 
The researchers found that friends of the treatment-group Peer Trainers talked about prejudice more often—and felt more comfortable with those conversations—than friends of the control-group Peer Trainers (who had not yet received the intervention). Friends of treatment-group Peer Trainers were also more aware of discrimination at their schools and more likely to take a public stand against prejudice by adding their names to the gay rights petition. 

Why This Works

Teenagers tend to seek connection with their peers and avoid being labeled as outsiders. But when just one person in their social network publicly confronts prejudice, they feel they are not alone, and so likewise may speak out against discrimination. 

When This Works Best

This intervention works best for teenagers who already have positive attitudes towards people of a different group, but who are reluctant to act on these attitudes all by themselves. 

Original Study

Paluck, E.L. (2011). Peer pressure against prejudice: a high school field experiment examining social network change. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47, 350-358.

See Also

Christakis, N., & Fowler, J. (2009). Connected: The surprising power of our social networks and how they shape our lives. London: Little Brown.

Sechrist, G., & Stangor, C. (2001). Perceived consensus influences intergroup behavior and stereotype accessibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 645−654.

Credits

Written by Shannon Schaubroeck

Photo CC by Mel Green