Peer Pressure


Leonardo Busztyn and Robert Jensen have recently conducted the research to identify the effect of peer pressure in educational investments (Bursztyn & Jensen, 2015). They found out that students prefer remaining true to the social norms rather than prove their academic capabilities. Those who are considered to be smarter than others usually face the challenges of being ignored by the rest of their peers. In order to prove this, a performance leaderboard was introduced to computer-based courses in a school. It was noted that grades of the students who usually performed well declined, while grades of some of the poor performing students improved. Students agreed to have their results publicized though it depended on who their peers were at the time. Those from honors classes were more acceptable to publication of their results as compared to those in non-honors classes. It was noted that decisions made by the students were highly affected by their peers.

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Research Description

Over the years, it has been observed that students do not want to excel among their peers. They want to belong to a social group in school so sometimes they are forced to take part in some actions in order 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 performed: natural experiment and field experiment. The natural experiment was conducted in over 100 high schools in the United States. At first, results were private, and no student knew the performance level of the others. However, the system changed, resulting in introduction of a performance leaderboard. As such, students’ results became public that was opposed to the initial secrecy. The findings of the research were quite interesting: students who used to perform well in the past started to receive lower grades to avoid having their names on the leaderboard. They assumed that if they were seen as honors students, they would lose their position in their social groups. They believed they would be bullied or called names because of their high performance. Therefore, those students opted to fail themselves as long as they maintained their social status. On the other hand, the students who were performing weakly were motivated to see their names on a leaderboard; as such, they tried to receive higher grades. In general, it all depended on the peer groups the students were in.

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 (Scholastic Assessment Test) preparatory class. A survey was taken randomly by providing the students with 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 classes, the signing-up level was 11% lower when the process was public if compared to when the process was completely private. It implied that sign-up in non-honors classes was mainly affected by the people who would see the results. Students have a choice to choose between honors and non-honors classes in the case when the two classes offer the same subjects. Two students from an honors class would not mind having their signing-up publicized, but if only their peers from the same class would see them. In case when they are in a non-honors class, their response will be determined by their peers’ opinion. As such, the students are the same, but the circumstances are different. Therefore, the people they interact with at the time influence their responses. In both classes, there are students who are more interested in popularity. Such students are less likely to take part in issues where the decision is public rather than when it is private. They all follow social norms and want to be seen as the excellent students in the eyes of the society, while at the same time, hiding their true identity.


As peer pressure mainly affects adolescents, a study on high school students was the best option in order to know its effects in regards to educational investments matters. This research showed the influence peers have on their education investment and efforts. While at school, most students are focused on being socially accepted by their peers rather than on their future or their grades. As a result, when faced with a choice between their futures that involves passing grades and being socially acceptable among their peers in the present, they choose the last option. Students rather fail and receive poor grades on purpose in order to not being socially rejected. Both experiments had the same results meaning that peers play a significant role in educational efforts students put into their school work.

However, this research experiment has a disadvantage as it focuses only on whether students would agree to have their results viewed by their peers. This observation is not the only factor that affects educational investments. 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 already have a successful future. Further, some students have not grown up in environments that approve a formal education, thus are in school only because they are forced to. Such variability of backgrounds also affects 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, 130(3), 1329-1367.

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