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27 Examples of Social Pressure

Social pressure is the ability of social groups to influence the behavior of members without using any formal authority or power. This can be a bad thing whereby social groups may push you to do things that aren't in your best interests or that conflict with how you really think or feel. However, social pressure can also be a positive force that pushes members of a group to behave well, try new things or raise their behavior to a higher standard. The following are illustrative examples of social behavior.

Peer Pressure

Peer pressure refers to social pressure from people who are in the same age group and culture as yourself. This term is mostly applied to children and young adults.
Childhood friends pressure you to stop poking a live wire you found with a stick.
A friend is competitive with you on grades and this inspires you to study harder.
A schoolmate nags you to join them in a bad habit such as smoking.
Friends at a party pressure you to drink in excess.
A big kid at a school is pressured / encouraged to fight a prominent bully.
A friend who pressures you to take an unreasonable risk such as driving while intoxicated.

Social Comparison

Social comparison is the tendency for people to compare themselves to others. This is perhaps somewhat rational as it may make sense to benchmark your results in life against peers once in a while. However, social comparison can be taken too far and it can allow others to exert social pressure on you.
A brand uses images of an idealized family life to try to create a desire for a product in a target market.
You feel pressure to become a manager at work after 3 of your closest friends become managers in their jobs.
A neighbor feels compelled to buy a luxury car they can't afford because several people in the neighborhood upgrade to luxury models.
A questionable investment scheme benefits from a fear of missing out where price increases cause people to fear others are getting ahead financially causing panic buying of the investment.
A young woman feels a need to pursue an expensive college education because her friends are going to college.

Media Messaging

Social pressure need not have an actor that is pushing you to do something. The mere existence of social expectations can be enough. In this context, the media plays a large role shaping social pressure but setting expectations for behavior and defining social status.
A 24 year old student is perfectly happy living at home and his parents are happy to have him there but he moves out because 20-somethings who live at home are commonly portrayed as losers in film, television and other media.
A student feels a strong need to find a date for a high school prom because this is portrayed as an important thing to do in movies.
A male teenager feels they need to buy a car because guys without cars are negatively portrayed in film and television.
A young woman feels a need to buy luxury handbags because these are portrayed as must-have status items in advertising, product placements and by social media influencers.


Norms are informal rules or expectations for behavior that are enforced by social pressure. This respects the intelligence and civility of people whereby they find ways to get along without formal rules that could potentially make life bleakly systematic and controlled.
People are expected to form a first come first serve line at a ski lift. Where people cut in line they may be admonished or receive an unfriendly glance from others.
A norm in a particular culture of dressing formally for weddings and funerals.
The social expectation that you will cover your face when you sneeze or cough.

Group Harmony

Group harmony is a group with strong norms such that conflict avoidance and stability is prioritized over other objectives such as individualism, freedom, candor and creativity.
A subordinate doesn't challenge their boss when they make a poor decision because this is viewed as unacceptable in a culture.
A committee agrees to a plan that every individual member of the committee views as irrational because the decision reflects a series of compromises and avoidance of disagreement. This situation is known as a abilene paradox.
A copilot doesn't point out a pilot's error in a face saving culture because they don't want to embarrass the pilot.

Polite Fiction

Polite fiction is the ability of groups to pretend something is true that isn't true in order to generate group harmony. This is typically defended with intensive social pressure.
Parents who pretend they don't have a favorite when they obviously do.
A culture where your words must be humble on the surface, even when you are busy promoting yourself.
A company culture that pretends a firm is environmentally and socially responsible when in fact its environmental track record is terrible. In this situation, being critical of this unspeakable truth would be likely to lead to sidelining.


Groupthink is a social environment where people are expected to conform to an ideology or set of opinions. This is enforced with social pressure whereby dissenters are admonished, labeled as bad and/or expelled from the group.
A university professor self-censors their speech and refrains from saying something they strongly believe in a department meeting.
An executive manager pretends to agree with an HR policy set forth by a consultant because they feel they will be negatively labeled if they disagree.
A teacher implies a theory is factual and a student pretends the same in an essay despite strongly disagreeing. The student fears they will receive a poor mark if they are intellectually honest in the essay.
Overview: Social Pressure
The ability of social groups to influence the behavior of members without using any formal authority or power.
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