Is deviance a result of teenage "warmblood" or is it a result of peer conformity?

Shreya Saha

23rd March, 2021


Over the years, researchers have been very interested in understanding acts of deviance among the emerging adults of our world. While these violations run along with a long list, aggression is universal and is always attributed to excitable energy. Ironically enough, these acts of deviance can result from conformity to standards set by their peers. There are multiple causal associations to aggression, some of which all of us have faced at some point. This paper elaborates on the involvement of peer pressure on adolescents’ violent behavior.


Norms can be defined as the implicit and explicit social rules of conduct governing the actions of an individual in a community (Young, 2007). It ranges from Laws, detailed instructions of social code, to politeness which are implicitly understood and taught to one. As such, these standards are so deeply instilled in our daily lives; it becomes hard to define what notions our culture has prescribed as social norms and what are, in fact, unique ideas. The entire world functions on these norms that vary from culture to culture but these run along similar veins.


Conformity can be referred to as the expression of any such behavior that falls within the social limits of acceptance. The manifestations of failure to comply with these standards are considered unacceptable and are referred to as deviance. Over the years, understanding acts of deviance such as aggression, especially among the youth, has been a matter of great interest to researchers. While original biological theories of aggression included heredity, phrenology, mental disorders, and biological positivism, there has been an increase in a multidisciplinary approach to evaluate youth aggression through the social sciences. The distinction between the two lies in the fact that the physical theories emphasized the contribution of biological instinct, whereas, the social sciences considered it to be a result of environmental factors (Clinard & Meier, 2015). In this paper, we look at the role of peer pressure on aggression among the youth. 


Peer Pressure 

In simple terms, peer pressure refers to the actions or values that are adopted by one, under social pressure, to be accepted by their peers. Early adolescence is commonly considered to be the period when peers begin to have a significant impact on a child’s behavior (Steinberg & Silverberg, 1986). As unlikely as that sounds, approval from our immediate surroundings plays a far more profound role in development during our adolescence.  Hence, to analyze the extent of such impact in our psychological adjustments, multiple studies on peer relations have been conducted over the years (Hartup, 1970; Rubin, Burowski & Parker, 1998). 

As the period of adolescence is distinguished with identity exploration, the impact of peer pressure is likelier to be substantial. The intensity of this impact depends on the risk factors involved in the youth’s life. Any situations that can increase the possibility of young people engaging in risky activities are risk factors. One can identify these within individual variables, family factors, peer and social relationships, and so on. It can range from our anxiety, depression, and rebelliousness on a personal level to academic failures, negative labeling, or easy availability of substances. While all consequences of peer pressure do not necessarily translate as a negative impact, most of them do. It is also important to understand risk factors lead to reckless activities, not risky activities, as risky activities are far more controlled than the former. Risky activities, such as motorcycle riding and bungee jumping, are socially approved. Reckless actions, by comparison, are those that ignore social acceptance. Young people who engage in one type of risky conduct are likely to indulge in others (Arnett, 1992).

Established Theoretical Evaluations 

Even socioeconomic conditions have a cumulative effect on the reckless behavior of an emerging adult. Better explained by social learning theories, young people who have role models for deviant activities and who view these behaviors as being approved by significant others are more likely to partake in the actions than young people who do not have these (Bandura, 1977). For instance, Binge drinking, which is a significant health issue (Wechsler, Davenport, & Dowdall, 1994). Though drinking among students has a multitude of reasons (Baer, 2002), peer pressure essentially establishes a pattern (Crawford & Novak, 2007). A recent European study on binge drinker characteristics concluded one of the most decisive influencing factors was peer pressure and that males were more susceptible to it (Kuntsche, Rehm, & Gmel, 2004). 


Apart from illegal and health risk behaviors (Paetsch & Bertrand, 1997), the socialization effect also accounts for Aggression (Vitaro et al., 1997) and internalizing symptoms such as depression (Hogue & Steinberg, 1995; Stevens & Prinstein, 2005) and suicidality (Brent et al., 1993; Prinstein, Boergers, & Spirito, 2001). Admittedly, research revealed that students who did not adhere to their peers' perceived standards of behavior showed a spike in their feelings of social isolation (Prentice & Miller, 1993). The social comparison theory can well support this undervaluation of self-worth concerning peer evaluations. 


A premise of the theory of social comparison is that individuals compare themselves to assess the appropriateness of their views with socially significant others (Goethals & Darley, 1977). They encounter psychological stress when they discover a difference between their values and those of their peers (Schachter,1951), which may weaken their sense of social appropriateness and even self-worth if not addressed by attitude change (Leary & Baumeister, 2000). The cost of resistance can prove particularly acute during adolescence when the creation of a stable self-concept predominates in the reflected evaluation and social comparison processes (Harter, Stocker, & Robinson, 1996; Hergovich, Sirsch, & Felinger, 2002; Steinberg & Silverberg, 1986).


Current Multidisciplinary Approach 

Researchers have used techniques of social networks to parse peer influence from risk factors, and most seem to accept that at least some degree of leverage exists for most behaviors (Ennett and Bauman, 1994; Steglich et al., 2007). This hypothesis is reinforced not only by longitudinal social network studies, but also by empirical and quasi-experimental research (Zimmerman, 2003; Falk and Ichino, 2006; Campbell et al., 2008), and involves a wide variety of behaviors including prosocial (e.g., Hanushek et al., 2003) and risk-taking (e.g., Haynie, 2001) behaviors. A recent study found that sixth-graders with aggressive friends were far more likely to be aggressive (Mouttappa et al., 2004). 


The contagion of attitudes and behaviors among adolescent peers is one of the most consistent and replicable results from this report. A broad body of work indicates that teenagers associate themselves with peers who are close to themselves in attitudes, interests, and behaviors Other social sciences have reported related spillover effects. Sociologists have recorded, for example, the socialization of drug use among teenagers in peer networks (Bauman & Ennett, 1996), and economists have documented the stimulation among convicted criminals of criminal activities (Bayer, Pintoff, & Pozen, 2004). More significantly, these affiliations prospectively predict rises in the rates of individual attitudes, desires, and behaviors as a consequence of socialization(Kandel, 1996). This can be supported by other reports that designate the role of peers in an apparent sense. Numerous adolescents often perpetuate bullying and related forms of violence collectively (Craig and Pepler, 1997; Salmivalli et al., 1996), and that peers often harass the same victims (Card and Hodges, 2006). 


Another recent finding, in an aggression study done through the social network approach, has been seeing aggression as instrumental to the achievement of status rather than a symptom of poor mental health. Aggressive youth are no less socially capable or more depressed than bystanders (Olweus, 1993). Other studies have indicated that violence can also be strategic, purposeful actions used to gain status by "normal" adolescents  (Veenstra et al., 2007; Rodkin and Berger, 2008). Apart from this, another model was formed to understand how conformity is related to social worth and peer hierarchy. It was based on the idea that adolescents who assume that violent and dangerous actions in the peer hierarchy can earn them better status may be particularly likely to mimic those behaviors. This model approached aggression among the youth in a multidimensional method and found that when the e-confederates were high in peer rank, adolescents demonstrated greater public compliance; more internalization, or unconscious incorporation of aggressive/health risk behaviors; and a higher level of actual exclusionary conduct (Cohen & Prinstein, 2006). 


The Rationale behind peer-influenced aggression  

Research on the model of prototype willingness shows that risk behavior participation increases with the belief that such activity is typical of members of a high-status group (Gerrard et al., 2002; Gibbons & Gerrard, 1997). Quite commonly, individuals look at the values and attitudes illustrated by high-status members of a comparison community to decide the kind of individual they want to be (Cohen, 2003; Turner, 1991). They even strive to resist views and ideas that reflect a particular type of individual they do not want to be, many of which are typical of peers of low status or outgroup members (Kinney, 1999). As explained by the social comparison theory, people that disagree with popular attitudes and ideologies face social isolation and also take a hit on self-esteem and psychological well-being.


Furthermore, the potency of conformity is variably dependant upon the nature of status attainment one seeks. One measure of calculating peer- status is based on preference. Also known as sociometric status, it reflects the likeability of the youngsters, from most-liked to least liked, among their peers (Coie & Dodge, 1983). Evidence from these studies indicates that high levels of such status correlate with risk behavior involvement, such as the use of nicotine (Allen et al., 2005). Other studies featured analyses of reputation-based peer status that represent the popularity of young people among their peers (Parkhurst & Hopmeyer, 1998). In definition, they are analogous to superiority scales, connections to material wealth, and positions of potential control over others. Research has shown that while they both are moderately linked to each other, reputation-based status is directly related to higher drug use frequencies, risky sexual activity participation, and, goal-oriented use of aggressive behavior (Prinstein et al., 2003). 


Whether compliance with high-status peers represents only a temporary impression management technique, refers to the subconscious process to influence our peer’s perceptions, or a deeper internalization of high-status expectations is a significant question. Most experimental cases illustrate that people conformed publicly to such standards more often than privately (Asch, 1952; Milgram, 1974). Apart from status attainment, other variables behind this behavior include adolescents with greater aggression and risk-taking inclinations (Dishion et al., 1995); and individuals more vulnerable to negative evaluation resulting from social anxiety, which is the experience of irrational fears of social interactions (La Greca, 1999). Due to their generalized sensitivity to peer evaluations, socially anxious people have a higher susceptibility to peer-pressure from both higher-status and lower-status peers (Cohen & Prinstein, 2006). 



Aggression has always been implicitly treated by theoretical models as a response to some provocation or problem, be it psychological maladjustment (Farrington and Baldry, 2010), an insult (Gould, 2003), an earlier act of aggression (Papachristos, 2009), aggressive role models in the home (e.g., Dodge et al., 1997) or some cause of frustration (Berkowitz, 1989). Necessary empirical support has been given to most of these veins of study, but they largely neglect the idea that aggression is triggered in part by contemplating its results. 

The numerous sources cited in this paper indicate that violence is a trait that can be absorbed by modeling, refers to a learning technique where the behavior to be learnt is exhibited for the person to imitate, through engaging hostile peers (Kreager, 2007). Aggression can be both inspired by social climbing, an urge to improve social position,  and instrumental in it (Rodkin and Berger, 2008). Therefore, researchers can benefit from concentrating on why and how certain forms of violence are socially rewarded, in addition to looking for more backgrounds. The understanding that self and other status motives can significantly affect power can apply to other actions in which peers are involved.



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About the Author

IMG_20201118_130059 - shreya saha.jpg

Shreya Saha, is an undergraduate student pursuing Psychology, Sociology and Economics. She usually tends to dissociate from reality when she is with a book. Her personal favorites lay in modern classics and thrillers. Apart from music suggestions and binge watching shows and documentaries, a good discussion on anything history and sociology is always welcome. She is looking towards pursuing a multidisciplinary social science subject like criminology.