How your friends can influence your habits
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.
Science has found that while this piece of wisdom has some truth, the reality is a bit more complex.
Social psychologists have agreed that those we surround ourselves with have the power to change our values, attitudes and behaviours.
This is not limited to peer pressure – where we deliberately change how we act to fit in with the group – but also through the unconscious, as our brain picks up subtle social cues and shift our perspective. And the more you draw your identity from the group, the stronger the effect will be.
Therefore, when friends or family members act in a way that goes against our attitudes, we may react by changing our attitudes to match. This phenomenon is called vicarious dissonance, where we feel a sense of discomfort when someone we consider our own social group behave inconsistently with our attitudes. To reduce the negative feelings from this discomfort or dissonance, we shift our attitudes to reconcile our beliefs with the group standards.
This theory has been proven in multiple studies. A US research found that the participants showed stronger support for always using sunscreen after hearing a person from their in-group speak on the importance of sun protection to combat the threats of melanoma.
Another study discovered that people who have had recent positive conversations about alcohol were more likely to drink more the following day, and vice versa.
“Anything our friends do influences us in ways that we are conscious of or not,” one of the researchers, Christin Scholz of the University of Amsterdam told BBC. “Their presence can decide whether we act on that health information or ignore it.”
The effects are not just limited to health habits. A study at the University of Queensland showed that watching a fellow student write a statement in favour of increased tuition fees led students to become more supportive of the idea.
Your mind and behaviour can be changed for the better or worse – it might be worth to take a look at those around you and see how they influence you.