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Deflating peer pressure.

Investigators have often portrayed teenagers as especially vulnerable to peer pressure to engage in all sorts of dangerous or illegal behaviors. But recent long-term studies indicate that friends generally exert only a small influence on the attitudes and actions of adolescents, contends psychologist Thomas J. Berndt of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.

Those studies also indicate that adolescents influence their friends in return, Berndt points out. Mutual persuasion and compromise gradually make friends more similar to each other in some respects, a pattern that characterizes friendships at all ages, Berndt asserts in the October CURRENT DIRECTIONS IN PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE.

However, two independent studies have uncovered only a weak influence of friends on such important factors as adolescents' educational aspirations and alcohol use, he says.

Teenagers respond more often to positive feedback from friends than to coercive pressure, Berndt argues. Exceptions exist, such as urban gangs that violently enforce their own codes of behavior. "But most adolescents simply choose new friends if they constantly disagree with the decisions of their old friends," the Purdue psychologist holds.

Much evidence for the strong influence of peer pressure on adolescents' behavior has relied on the similarity between a teenager's self-reported behavior and his or her descriptions of friends' behavior. But research now indicates that teenagers frequently overestimate the degree to which their own beliefs and actions match those of their friends, Berndt maintains.
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Title Annotation:teenagers typically respond more to positive influences than to coercive treatment
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Nov 14, 1992
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