Research on Peer Pressure

Peer Pressure and Educational Investments

Leonardo Busztyn and Robert Jensen recently conducted a study to determine the impact peer pressure has on educational investments (Bursztyn, & Jensen, 2015).

Effects of Peer Pressure

They discovered that students typically prefer to uphold social standards over demonstrating their academic prowess. The difficulties of being ignored by their peers are common for students who are thought to be smarter than their peers. A straightforward natural research was conducted to demonstrate. Computer-based courses were given a performance leaderboard in a school. It was observed that some of the low performers' grades increased while some of the kids who typically perform well fell. Students agreed to have their results publicized, though it depended on who their peers were at the time. For those who were in an honors class, they were more acceptable to have their results publicized as compared to those in a non-honors class. It was noted that decisions made by the students were highly affected by their peers.

About the Research

Over the years, it has been observed that students want to fit in. They want to belong to a social group in school thus are sometimes forced to take part in some actions so as to gain social approval. This research aims at finding out how the students' involvement with their peers affects the educational investment in the school. Two types of researches were carried out; natural experiment and field experiment.

Natural Experiment

The natural experiment was carried out in over 100 high schools in the United States. At first, results were private, and no student knew the performance of the other students. Suddenly, the system changed, and a performance leaderboard introduced. Results were now being given in public as opposed to the initial secrecy. The results found were interesting. Students who used to perform well in the past started dropping in their grades to avoid having their names on the leaderboard. The students assumed that if they were seen as top scorers, they would lose their position in their social groups. They believed they would be teased or called names because of their performance. Therefore, they opted to fail themselves as long as they maintained their social standings. The students who were performing weakly were motivated and started performing better, so as to prove a point to their peers. All in all, it all came down to the peer groups the students were in.

Field Experiment

In the field experiment, four low-income high schools were chosen in Los Angeles. Eleventh-grade students were offered complimentary access to an online SAT preparatory class. A survey was taken randomly by giving the students sign-up form to fill asking them whether the results would be private to all except those in the room, or the results would be private to all including those in the room. The defining words were 'including' and 'except.' Both honors and non-honors classes took part in this experiment. It was noted that, in the non-honors class, when sign up was 11% lower when other people would see they are signing up as compared to when their signing up was kept completely private. It is observed that sign-up in non-honors class is mainly affected by the people who will see the results. Students have a choice to pick an honors class, or a non-honors class in the case where there are two classes offer the same subjects. Two students in an honors class would not mind having their signing up publicized, but this is when they are with their peers in an honors class. In case they are in a non-honors class, the peers will determine their response. Note that the students are the same, but the circumstances are different. Therefore the people they associate with at the time do much to influence their responses to queries at that point. In both classes, there are students who are more interested in popularity. These students are less likely to take part in issues where the decision is public rather than when it is private. They all follow the trend of the social norm and want to be seen as the best in the eyes of the society, while at the same time covering up the real story about them.


Peer pressure mainly affects adolescents. Therefore a study on high school students was the best option in regards to knowing the effects peers have in regards to educational investments matters. Peers of young age usually influence each other's decision. At this point in life, most students are more focused on being socially accepted by their age mates, rather than how their future would be. Most students have less interest in attaining a good grade while in the process becoming socially unacceptable.

This research showed the influence peers have on their education investment and efforts. Students prefer looking at their current status rather than on their future endorsements. When faced with a choice between their futures which involves studies and passing grades and being socially acceptable among their peers in the present, they choose the present. They rather fail and get poor grades, on purpose, rather than get good grades and are socially sidelined. Both experiments had the same results meaning peers have a large role to play when it comes to educational efforts students put into their school work.

The problem with this research experiment is that it focuses simply whether students would agree to have their results viewed by their peers. This observation is not the only factor that affects educational investments in students among their peers. This research could have been wider and covered more areas on how peers affect their fellows. For instance, some students come from wealthy backgrounds thus do not see the need to study hard since they are already well off. For some students, they have not grown up in environments that cherish a formal education thus are in school just for the sake. These variabilities of backgrounds also affect the answers the students could have given and how they responded to the natural experiment.


Bursztyn, L., & Jensen, R. (2015). How Does Peer Pressure Affect Educational Investments?.

The quarterly journal of economics, qjv021.

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