In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Sarah Stoddard of the University of Michigan explains peer pressure’s long reach into the virtual world of social media.
Sarah Stoddard is a research assistant professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of Michigan. Her research interests include understanding the interaction between individual factors and social and environmental factors. Her findings have been published in a number of peer-reviewed journals and she holds a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota.
Dr. Sarah Stoddard – Online Peer Pressure
Young adults spend increasing amounts of time socializing online through social networking sites. But do these online interactions influence peer behavior in the same way face to face interactions do?
For young adults, peer substance use is one of the strongest predictors of alcohol and other drug use. If your friends drink or smoke marijuana, you’re more likely to do the same. In the first national survey of it’s kind, we sampled 18-24 year olds and looked at the connections between alcohol and drug content on social networking sites and their alcohol and drug use. We found that the more alcohol-related pictures and posts the participants and their friends put on social networking sites, the more frequently they drank alcohol. We found this to be true, even when we accounted for their friends’ alcohol and drug use.
We also asked about online social norms, or what participants’ thought about their friends’ beliefs about posting pictures of alcohol and drug use online. For example, did they believe that ‘Everyone posts online pictures where they are drinking’. What was interesting about our results was that these online social norms were unrelated to the participants’ alcohol and drug use. We found that these social norms were less important than what they saw their friends doing through online posts.
Yet, peers don’t always increase young adult drinking or marijuana use. If young adults thought that posting about their alcohol and drug use online would have negative consequence in their social life, they reported less alcohol and marijuana use.
Our findings are only the first clues into how online social networks may affect alcohol and drug use for young adults. What we do know is that online platforms provide a new, additional way for young adults to influence their peers’ alcohol and drug use behavior.