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8 Jul
2012
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Peer Pressure And How To Make Choices

Choice is one of my favourite topics because it pulls in all sorts of ideas – like free will, and destiny, but there is another side that is also of importance and that is how to make a choice when there is pressure to choose.

We all know how difficult it is to be the lone voice in the crowd. But I also think that that lone voice is potentially the one most worth listening to.

There is a well-known experiment, by psychologist Solomon Asch, that took place in the 1950’s to test the effects of peer pressure. In this experiment one test subject was placed in a room with seven ‘fake’ participants. The test subject thought everyone was being tested. The experiment demonstrated a couple of things.

  1.  That it is very difficult to voice a difference of opinion when everyone else is in agreement.
  2. That it only takes one person to disagree with the ‘crowd’ in order for you to feel safer expressing your own opinion.

What the experiment showed was that when everyone else agrees it can either distort your perception of reality or it can cause you not to voice a difference of opinion even though you know everyone else is wrong.

It also demonstrated that if only one or two speak up against a majority who are wrong, this then provides sufficient authority for you to also speak up – assuming that there are no negative consequences for doing so.

In other words, being a lone voice crying in the wilderness is really difficult.

Isn’t it so much easier to go along with the crowd?

Sociologists observe this in mob behaviour when individuals find themselves behaving in socially unacceptable ways because the ‘mob’ behaves as a single organism and it seems to override individual morality.

Now you know as well as I do that when you are pressured to agree to do something you don’t want to do – that you quite often agree. If all your friends are arranging a day out at a theme park, but you’d rather visit a museum, or walk along a picturesque river valley, you probably find yourself at the theme park because the alternative would have been to be on your own – or worse be seen as boring, no fun, a wet blanket…

People who have difficulty saying ‘no’ also have this problem. They are controlled by others. If you always have to say ‘yes’ when someone asks you to do something for them, then you have no freedom. You live at the whim of others. Many people who suffer anxiety and stress problems have a problem saying ‘no’. The freedom that learning to say ‘no’ brings with it is a great stress release.

If you want to enjoy freedom in life then you have to live it on your terms. You have to make your choices based on your own needs and desires. Of course, that creates conflict if one of your needs or desires is to be liked and have friends and the other is to spend time in nature, because the theme park gives you one of those and the river gives you the other. In such cases the solution is simple. Just ask yourself the question “what would please me most, right now?” and then go with that. That way, on some days you’ll find yourself at the theme park and on others out in nature. This is not a compromise. Compromise is always a lose-lose situation. When you always go with what would please you most right now – you always win.

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