Sometimes peer pressure can be a good thing

November 15, 2014
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Remember back in your school days, when you felt a strange compulsion to sew an Iron Maiden patch on your jean jacket?

Everyone has an old photo or two they’d rather keep hidden, and a lot of things are cool because, well, that was the thing to do. That old-fashioned peer pressure is still alive and well, helping and hurting us humans in all sorts of ways. In fact, a new study has shown that it can be a powerful way to encourage green measures, like installing solar panels on houses or adopting sustainability practices at work.


Solar panels being installed on a roof by Lauren Willcome


According to a study, conducted by researchers at Yale University and the University of Connecticut, households are substantially more likely to put solar panels on their houses when they are following in the footsteps of other households in close proximity. It wasn’t the only factor (local policies also have a big role) but “social interaction and visibility” were important parts of the decision-making.

Picture of DEP staff member Jessica Jones from 1992

DEP staffer, Jessica Jones, as a kid succumbing to peer pressure in the form of large ’80’s style glasses.


The same idea appears to hold true at the office. A study led by UCLA scientists and published in 2012 revealed that workplaces adopting green standards had 16 percent higher productivity. Environmental certifications like ISO 14001, the report found, required employees to work together across departments on specific sustainability practices, which boosted morale and open-mindedness as well as cultivating teamwork and, you guessed it, peer pressure.

Of course, this all has a clear psychological grounding that goes well beyond environmentalism. The social learning theory holds that we gain knowledge by observing and imitating the behavior the actions and behaviors around us. It doesn’t mean we’re susceptible or impressionable; it’s just how we’re wired. And as such, the visual cues—solar panel, jean jacket patch, whatever—can be strong motivators.

It’s all proof positive of the old cliche that if we want to see the change, we should be the change. Once the ball gets rolling, there’s no telling how much momentum it can pick up, thanks to the friends and neighbors around us.


By Scott Harris, Freelance Writer. Read Scott’s other posts on his church’s rain garden and birds and climate change.

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