Does peer risk-taking behaviors influence an individual’s behavior? Peer influence, which may also be referred to peer conformity or peer pressure, is defined, by Dictionary.com, as the social burden by members of an individual’s group to take action, conform to the groups beliefs, take part of something, or a change in values to be accepted. Hanging around the right group of peers can either have positive or negative effects on the individuals choices. By changing their attitudes, behaviors, and values to conform to the group it can cause a lasting impact that can influence future choices or outcome of the individual.
In a study done by Van Hoorn, Crone, & Leijenhorst (2016), the influence of peer advice in the choices of adolescents make in a card game was tested. Through an online card game that used bets on whether the second card would be higher or lower, they hypothesized that adolescents would place a bet for a higher card if the first card was 1-4 and place a bet for lower bet if the first card was 6-9 based on previous studies and conditions. Using the Social Norms Theory they also hypothesized that during uncertain situations the adolescents would put their confidence in the online peer and place a bet based on the guidance of that same peer.
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The Social Norms Theory focuses on the environment and outside influences of the individual in order to change the behavior of the individual. By using peer influence as the main factor of effective change, Perkins and Berkowitz (1986) were able to reduce alcohol-related injuries and alcohol consumption in college students by using peer influence to change individual behavior. This theory in this study addresses the potential risky effects peer influence can have on risk-taking behavior. Though research has been done on peer influence on individuals in the lab and in daily life and been consistent in showing an increase in risk-taking behavior based on the presence of peers, this study aims to look at the potential positive and negative effects it has on gambling behavior.
The study consisted of 44 males and 32 females, combining to a total of 76 students. These participants ranged from ages 15 to 17 years old. They lived in a middle-class neighborhood with a primarily Caucasian population in the Netherlands. Due to the age of the participants, informed consent forms and parental consent went out to the parents of the participants. No other information was taken from the parents regarding their annual income and level of education. The researchers used Raven’s Standard Progressive Matrices (SPM) to test their general intellectual ability, which included a 60 item test divided into 5 sections with 12 items in each set. Items within each section increased with difficulty as a participant would move on to each new question. After analyzing the scores they found that there was no statistically significant difference in IQ for both males and females, the overall scores fell within average to above average scores.
After analyzing the student’s scores, the main experiment began. Using a computerized card game, called the Guess Gambling Game (GGG), the looked at two behaviors: guessing and gambling behavior. Each participant was individually administered the test in a quiet classroom on a laptop. The game consisted of two cards presented on the screen, one facing up and one facing down. The participant would then place a bet, one to nine chips, on if the card facing down was higher or lower. If guessed correctly the student would double their chips bet and if guessed incorrectly students would lose the chips bet but retain the chips that were not bet. After playing alone for 40 trials, an online peer would advise them for the next three rounds of 40 trials on how many chips to bet ranging from one to nine chips. In total 160 rounds of betting were played for each participant.
After conducting, the game the results were looked at in three different categories: guessing behavior, peer advice and gambling behavior, and reaction times and gambling behavior. The guessing behavior was as just as predicted by the researchers. The participant percentage to guess higher on cards were for cards 1 through 4 while the majority of guesses for lower cards were for those cards between 6 through 9. Card 5 had a mixed percentage with 50% guessing higher and the other 50% guessing lower. With the rounds with the peer advice, participants started to guess the next card after card 5 would be higher. With the use of peer advice on gambling behavior, the more peers advised their participant to bet more during uncertain conditions the more likely that participant was to bet. Those who received medium advice in whether or not the card was higher or lower were more reserved and did not bet as much. The last thing tested was reaction times and gambling behavior. It was seen that the more advice that was given to the participant the longer they took to make their guess. For those peers who gave little to medium advice the participants tended to make faster guesses. This may be due to the knowledge being given and the amount of information given to think about.
The Guess Gambling Game (GGG), a card-guessing task, used an online format to view the effects of peer advice and their influence on placing bets, which in this case was seen as risk-taking behaviors. Using the social norms perspective, which outlines the behaviors exhibited by and individual is based on their environment and peers, was used to see the influence of peers. In addition to other studies that have previously looked at outcome probabilities associated with cards, the behaviors exhibited by participants in this study have been shown to be the same. With or without peer presence, participants tended to pick lower numbered cards as the second card for higher numbered cards and higher numbered cards as the second card for lower numbered cards. The only difference is the expected gambling behavior that was influenced by peer advice. It was found that there was an increase in the amount of bets placed per game with peer advice, adding to researchers previous work that risk-taking behaviors increase with the presence of peers. Different types of advice can yield different results depending on the context given.
Though this experiment came out with a conclusion, there were many limitations to their approach. The first limitation was the relatively small participant size. They only had 76 participants in one city of the Netherlands. Because of this, their results cannot accurately represent the vast majority of adolescents world-wide, even so, in the Netherlands alone. Another limitation was the age range represented. Adolescents begin around ages 9 & 10 and end around ages 18 to 19. Having this knowledge, it would be possible that at different age ranges peer influence on adolescent choices may differ from age to age. The third limitation in this study is that it does not accurately represent the complex social interactions adolescents have outside of the experiment. The environment the adolescents were placed in was a controlled environment in which every trial a new anonymous peer was giving them advice. This did not give any time for the participant to build a relationship or build a sense of trust. If this study was done again a possibility would to have their own friends or peers give them advice. The last limitation to this study was that it did not investigate real-world situations. Rather it was on a game with small rewards. One way around this is to create a real life scenario in which the participant can relate to.
If this study were to be done in the future, a number of factors could be changed. First, if there were still to be online peers in future games, they could be actual friends that the individual has. This would be able to show the real influence peers have on their friends rather than a stranger. Since they already have a relationship built with their friends the social context would be much greater. If the online peers were to still be anonymous, not changing them every round would be more beneficial to the participant. The participant would be able to grow a relationship with the peer and gain more trust as the trials go on. Second, the range of participants should greatly be increased. Only 76 participants participated in this study which is a reason it cannot be generalized to the rest of adolescents. The study was also done on a group of middle-class, Caucasian students in one school in the Netherlands. In order to get a more generalized finding, researchers may broaden their participant range and get more student from the upper and lower-class. They may also include more students with an ethnic background to see if there are any difference in the way peers influence their decisions. Lastly, researchers may also do a longitudinal study on those participants that relied heavily on peer advice and those participants who did not rely heavily on peer advice. This would be follow up to see how often the participants took part of risk-taking behaviors based on peer influence as they got older. Some participants may have started to rely on peer advice while others no longer take peer advice into consideration.
Peers play a vital role in the choices adolescents make. They may either positively or negatively influence adolescents in day-to-day activities such as driving and risk-taking behaviors. In conclusion this study showed that peers did not affect the ability of adolescents to make rational guesses, but rather peers had a slight influence in peer gambling behaviors. The more advice that was given to the adolescents the more likely they were to increase the number of chips bets on whether the card was higher or lower. This study was able to show an increase in risk-taking behavior with the presence of another peer. When putting this into intervention strategies, the focus should be on the groups perception of that problem or behavior and how to reduce it. The more advice that is given in positively changing the perception of risk-taking behaviors, the less likely adolescents may be in portraying them.
- LaMorte, W. W. (2018). Behavioral Change Models. Received from http://sphweb.bumc.bu.edu/otlt/MPHModules/SB/BehavioralChangeTheories/BehavioralChangeTheories7.html
- Peer pressure. (2005). In Dictionary.com’s dictionary (3rd ed.). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/peer-pressure
- Van Hoorn, J., Crone, E. A., & Van Leijenhorst, L. (2017). Hanging out with the right crowd: Peer influence on risk-taking behavior in adolescence. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 27(1), 189-200. doi: 10.1111/jora.12265