Peer Pressure | Organization for Autism Research

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Peer pressure occurs everywhere, but it is especially prevalent in college because there are no parental influences to help you decide what is right or wrong. In college, you will have to depend on your moral compass, which is a figurative term that describes the gut feeling you have about certain situations or activities. In college, peer pressure tends to revolve around going out, deciding not to study to do something else, alcohol, and even drugs. Peer pressure can appear in two forms: implicit peer pressure and explicit peer pressure. Explicit peer pressure is when someone directly (or explicitly) pressures you into doing something. It can sound like, “Hey Connie, you have to come out tonight!” Implicit peer pressure is harder to define, since it isn’t someone directly pressuring you to do something. Implicit peer pressure is closely tied to societal pressures, which is when you think you should do something out of fear that you will be an outcast or called weird by friends. Implicit peer pressure is usually the situation you are in, and not people actually telling or pressuring you to do something. It could be that you are the only person in a room not doing something, and you feel weird being the only one not engaging in that activity. Most of the time, implicit peer pressure isn’t actually real – it is just something that you make up in your mind.Peer pressure appears in many forms: it can happen in person or through a text. In person, it can either sound aggressive or not aggressive at all. An example of aggressive peer pressure is the following:

Luke is at a party with his new friends and decided before that he didn’t want to drink. He was okay with everyone else drinking around him but for his own personal reasons, he decided not to participate. He told his friends, Anthony and Garth, beforehand that he didn’t want to drink but still wanted to attend the party. Halfway through the party, Garth comes up to Luke, puts his arm around him, and starts chanting: “drink, drink, drink!” Other people join in and soon the whole party is cheering for Luke to drink.

A less aggressive example of peer pressure is actually an implicit form. For instance, Stacey was with her friends who were all drinking wine in her room. Stacey didn’t tell any of her friends that she didn’t want to drink, because she didn’t think it was that big of a deal. Four of Stacey’s friends were in her room, all drinking wine. One friend, Martha, offered Stacey a glass because she felt bad that Stacey was the only person without a glass. This example is implicit because Stacey is surrounded by people drinking and may feel implicitly pressured to drink, even if she doesn’t want to. Since Stacey didn’t tell her friends she didn’t want to drink, Martha was simply being polite in offering a glass of wine. In this instance, the implicit pressure of drinking is stronger than Martha’s offer – but neither are malicious. If Stacey can control herself and not succumb to peer pressure, then this is a safe situation to be in.

Peer pressure also appears through text. Typically, it is less aggressive, with a friend texting “Yo, you are coming out tonight.” This text isn’t bad, but it may be hard to say no if you don’t want to go out. However, you should remember that peer pressure is often implicit, and deciding to succumb or not succumb to peer pressure is often societal. This means that if your friends peer pressure you, you will feel more pressured by societal influences. For an example of deciding on staying out late, you might think the following: what will my friends think of me if I decide to go to bed early, will they think I’m a baby? Will they still be friends with me if I decide to sleep? Everyone experiences these societal influences, but the good news is that none of it is true. Your friends won’t think differently of you based on your decision to do an activity or not. They are your friends because they like you (and you like them), so saying no to peer pressure won’t affect your friendship.

People often succumb to peer pressure because of societal influences mentioned above.  Most times, if you succumb to peer pressure, nothing extremely horrible will occur. However, constantly yielding to peer pressure can take a toll on your mental and physical health; peer pressure often involves bad decisions and constantly making bad decisions will negatively impact your health, your grades, and your friendships.

Being on the spectrum might make it harder to make right decisions (like not caving into peer pressure). Because there is the invisible barrier between yourself and the rest of the college community, you might feel as if yielding to peer pressure is an easy way to make and keep friends. However, this is a wrong assumption! If you surround yourself with people who constantly pressure you to do activities that you have no interest in, they are not your friends. Friends are people that you feel comfortable with and you trust. It is essential to remember that bad friends don’t count as friends; if you can’t trust them and can’t feel comfortable around them, then they are definitely not your friends.

Hopefully you have gotten the message that peer pressure negatively affects your health. Staying out late and not studying or getting enough rest for school will make you groggy the next day and not at all prepared. While making friends is important, your schoolwork should come first. It can affect you mentally when peer pressure is more explicit, like friends teasing you to do something you don’t want to do. In this case, the point of the peer pressure is to make you feel bad enough to engage in the activity you don’t want to engage in. Peer pressure can also affect your physical health, especially if the activity that you are being pressured to engage in deals with drugs or alcohol. Drugs and alcohol are super easy to find on a college campus, but can easily derail your success. They can cause physical problems, like organ failure or even death. Also, drugs and alcohol are being roofied, or having an illegal substance being mixed in without your knowledge to make you pass out and not remember anything that night.

Below are situations that involve peer pressure and advice on how not to cave into peer pressure:

On a Sunday night, Aria’s new friends invite her over to a dinner and movie night that starts at 8 PM. Aria likes to go to bed around 10 PM, but she decides to go anyways. They finish dinner around 9 PM, and are ready to watch the movie around 9:30 PM. Aria is already tired and knows that by the time she gets home, prepares for school the next day, and showers, it will already be 10 PM or later. Aria knows that these friends stay up super late, and she wants to impress them and get to know them better since they seem like sweet girls. Aria doesn’t know whether she should stay at her friend’s place or go home and get her much-needed rest.

The above example is probably the most innocent form of peer pressure you will encounter. In this case, Aria should decide which is more important, getting her rest or staying with her friends. In this instance, it is totally up to Aria to make the decision! Getting one night of less sleep isn’t detrimental to Aria’s health, and she doesn’t have an exam the next day. However, Aria knows that she is cranky in the morning when she gets less than 8 hours of sleep. She also wants to get closer with these new friends, since they seem really sweet and smart. Again, Aria can choose either option without a huge toll on her health.

Gabe has a huge exam on Friday – it is worth 50% of his grade for the semester and he needs to do very well in order to get the grade he wants. However, it is Thursday night and his friends want to go out to a new club. Gabe can’t decide which he wants to do; on one hand, he knows he should study for his exam, but on the other hand, he really wants to go out to the new club with his best friends! He also doesn’t want to feel left out of the friend group. When Michael asks Gabe if he wants to join, Gabe freezes.

In this instance, the answer might seem clear to you: Gabe should stay home and study for his exam. But in the moment, it is hard to decide which decision is best. Hopefully, Gabe can realize that his exam is more important than going out, and that staying in to study won’t affect his friendships. When replying to his friend, Michael, Gabe could say: “That sounds like so much fun but unfortunately I have a major exam tomorrow that is 50% of my grade so I have to stay in and study.”

It is Maya’s first week back at school and her friends want to go to a fraternity party. Maya is fine with going, but she has work early tomorrow so she tells her friends that she doesn’t want to drink. At the party, one of Maya’s friends forgets that Maya doesn’t want to drink and comes up to her, and begs her to drink. Maya’s friend, Jasmine, tells her “Maya you have to drink! It makes the party so much more fun – and you look like you need the fun! Come on, I’ll pour you a shot and I’ll take one myself.” Maya knows her friend has good intentions, and simply forgot that Maya doesn’t want to drink, but now Maya is unsure of whether she should succumb to this pressure and drink. Maya asks herself if one drink really makes that much of a difference, and if she drinks, Jasmine may stop bugging her.

In most cases, one drink doesn’t make a huge difference – but this is not the issue. The issue in this example is whether or not Maya should do something that she doesn’t really want to do. If Maya drinks, Jasmine may back off – but she probably won’t. Jasmine will probably see Maya drinking and pressure her to drink more; and with the alcohol in Maya’s system, she is more likely to say yes to have more drinks. If Maya really doesn’t want to drink, she should say no. Even if she is somewhat unsure of whether or not she wants to drink, she shouldn’t drink until she is 100% positive that she wants to drink. Maya has several options in responding. First, she can remind Jasmine that she has work early tomorrow and doesn’t want to drink. She could also tell Jasmine that she isn’t in the mood to drink, but could ask to have Jasmine pour her a soda instead. In her response, Maya should reiterate that she is having fun, but she doesn’t want to drink; she should be firm and unwavering to ensure that Jasmine doesn’t try to pressure her again. If it does happen again, Maya should leave the situation by going to a different part of the party or even leave the party. No party is fun when you are being pressured to do something you don’t want to do.

Owen and his friends are hiking and stop for a break. Several of his friends take out cigarettes and weed, neither of which Owen has tried before. His friend, Joshua, offers both to Owen. Owen is unsure what to do, but knows that he doesn’t want to try either right now. He is the only one that isn’t smoking, and everyone looks at him to see what he will do.

This situation is tricky because it involves two substances, one of which is illegal in most states. Since Owen is certain that he doesn’t want to try either, he should decline the offer. Although there is a strong societal influence with everyone else smoking, Owen shouldn’t be afraid of saying no; none of his friends will be offended by his response. In this instance, only societal influences are causing peer pressure; in other words, none of his friends are forcing him to smoke. Instead, he feels pressured because of the societal influences. Owen might think that if he doesn’t smoke, his friends will think he is a loser, but that isn’t true.

If you are in a situation where you feel like there is peer pressure at play, make sure to double check if it is actually a societal influence. Once you can determine that a societal influence is pressuring you, and not your friends, you will feel more confident in saying no. None of your friends will judge you, and your decision to do something won’t affect your friendship, just like saying yes to peer pressure won’t positively affect your friendship. If you rule out societal influences as peer pressure, the next easiest thing to do after saying no is to leave the situation. That is, if you say no to peer pressure and your people keep pressuring you to say yes, you should leave the scene and go somewhere else. Being pressured to do something you don’t want to do isn’t fun, so you will have more fun in a different place. When saying no to peer pressure, be honest and straightforward – convoluted answers will get you nowhere and confuse your friend on if you want to engage in that activity or not.

Take this short quiz to test your knowledge on peer pressure!


Lindsey Siff

Lindsey Siff is a rising junior at The George Washington University and is double-majoring in Psychology and Fine Arts. She is also one of the 2018 summer interns for OAR. Outside of OAR, Lindsey also works as a research assistant to a co-parenting study at GW. Lindsey loves going out with friends, volunteering, and exploring DC.

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