The Subtle Ways Your Friends Change You, For Better and Worse

Source: BBC

By William Park

Our health choices are constantly influenced by our friends, both consciously or unconsciously.

We often think that self-control comes from within, yet many of our actions depend just as much on our friends and family as ourselves. Those we surround ourselves with have the power to make us fatter, drink more alcohol, care less about the environment and be more risky with sun protection, among many things.

This is not simply peer pressure, in which you deliberately act in a certain way to fit in with the group. Instead, it is largely unconscious. Beneath your awareness, your brain is constantly picking up on cues from the people around you to inform your behaviour. And the consequences can be serious.

It is now well accepted that our personal sense of self is derived from other people. “The more of your identity you draw from a group, even when you’re not around that group, the more likely you are to uphold those values,” says Amber Gaffney, a social psychologist from Humboldt State University. “If a big part of how you identify is as a student from a certain university, or like me an academic, then that’s what you take with you into most interactions with others. I see things first through my lens as an academic.” Students, for instance, tend to have stronger attitudes towards things like legalising drugs or supporting environmental sustainability than the rest of the population.

These are called social norms. And while these norms are usually stable, some interesting things happen if just one person in the associated group acts out of character.

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