The Loh Down On Science

A mathematician devises a formula for peer pressure

Gary Larson, The Far Side

Is peer pressure. . . mathematical?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying:

Yes!  Kind of!

So says Ernesto Estrada, of the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow.  He studied the dynamics of group consensus in 15 real-world social networks—from high schoolers to prison inmates to bottlenose dolphins.  And he has calculated the exact tipping point at which “march to your own drummer” becomes “go with the flow.”

Peer pressure is an elusive concept, but it plays a crucial role in our society.  What others are doing affects our decisions on everything we do:  fashion, smoking, recycling.  Binge-watching “Game of Thrones.” 

Estrada’s formula calculates the number of direct and indirect influences on an individual, their distance, and how strong their pull.  Direct influence—those in your own circle—is the trigger.  But once indirect influence kicks in, and you see that “everybody’s doing it,” it becomes, well, a “thing.”  Just try to sit still when the stadium erupts in “The Wave!”

So your mother was right—if everyone around you jumped off a cliff, you really would do the same thing!  In those really cute jeggings everyone has now.  I love those!

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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