top of page

The Effect of Peer Influence on how Individuals make Risky Decisions

Researcher & Writer: Charlotte Lee

Illustrator: Ellie Liu

Peer Influence refers to the impact that individuals within a person’s peer group have on their attitudes, beliefs, behaviours and decision making. Peer influence can be positive and negative, for example one could be encouraging behaviours that are beneficial and healthy whereas the latter could involve influencing others to engage in behaviours that may be harmful or undesirable. Peer pressure refers to the influence exerted by peers to conform to their attitudes, behaviours or beliefs and it involves the pressure to adopt certain actions or choices in order to gain acceptance, approval or to avoid rejection from the peer group. Risky decisions on the other hand, are choices or actions that have potential uncertain consequences, often undesirable. During college years, peer influence can significantly impact how students make risky decisions. College students, in particular, can still be susceptible to peer pressure due to various factors which can be explained through the self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000). This theory suggests that individuals

have innate psychological needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness, and when these needs are not fulfilled, they are more likely to seek external sources of validation and social acceptance, such as peers. College students especially, can have a strong need for social belonging due to the transitional phase of entering a “foreign” social environment like university. They may fear social isolation or rejection, which can make them more sensitive to peer pressure and more likely to conform to the behaviours of their peers.

Gardener & Steinberg (2005) were interested in the difference between adolescents and adults in risk taking and risky decision making. The study included three age groups adolescents (ages 13-16), youths (ages 18-22), and adults (ages 24 and older). The findings indicated that when

participants completed tasks in the presence of their peers, they displayed higher levels of risk taking during the game and were more likely to choose risky options in decision-making situations compared to those who completed the tasks alone. Gender differences were minimal, as there were no significant differences between males and females in risk taking or risky decision making which aligns with the conclusions made by McCoy et al., (McCoy et al., 2019). However, it was also observed that males tended to place greater weight on the potential benefits of risky decisions compared to females. On the other hand, ethnicity had more significant effects, with non-White participants engaging in more risk taking while White participants made riskier decisions. Moreover, the effects of age also differed between White and non-White individuals, with non-White adolescents demonstrating more risk-taking behaviour and a greater preference for risk compared to white adolescents.

(Møller & Haustein, 2014) investigated the influence of peer pressure on speeding behaviour among male drivers aged 18 and 28. One of the key findings was that speeding is more accepted and prevalent among the older age group (28-year olds) compared to the younger age group (18-year-olds). In both age groups, the perception of friends’ speeding behaviour was found to be the most significant predictor of an individual’s speeding. This suggests that young male drivers are influenced by the speeding behaviour of their peers, leading to socialisation into increased speeding based on peer pressure. Previous research including (Gardner & Steinberg, 2005) have shown that risky-decision making tends to decrease with age, which contrasts the findings of this study. Additionally, previous studies have shown that as individuals mature, they become more risk averse and prioritise long-term consequences over short-term thrills (Reyna & Farley, 2006).

These are just selections from literature, and there is still a wide range of studies supporting the theory that peer pressure does influence how people approach risky decisions and whether they decide to carry them out or not. This is important to be aware of, especially for adolescents who are particularly vulnerable to such pressure. Many admit to having many regrets during their teenage and college years, and so, if students are aware that they are vulnerable, they can hopefully be more conscious with their decision-making in order to protect themselves.


Gardener, M., & Steinberg, L. (2005). Peer Influence on Risk Taking, Risk Preference, and Risky Decision Making in Adolescence and Adulthood: An Experimental Study. Developmental Psychology, 41(4), 625-635. DOI: 10.1037/0012-1649.41.4.625

Hayhoe, C. R., Leach, L. J., Turner, P. R., Bruin, M. J., & Lawrence, F. C. (2000). Differences in Spending Habits and Credit Use of College Students. The Journal of Consumer Affairs, 34(1), 113-133.

Knee, R. C., & Neighbors, C. (2006). Self-determination, perception of peer pressure, and drinking among college students. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 42(3), 522-543.

McCoy, S. S., Dimler, L. M., Samuels, D. V., & Natsuaki, M. N. (2019). Adolescent Susceptibility to Deviant Peer Pressure: Does Gender Matter? Adolescent Res Rev, 4, 59-71.

Møller, M., & Haustein, S. (2014). Peer influence on speeding behaviour among male drivers aged 18 and 28. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 64, 92-99.

Reyna, V. F., & Farley, F. (2006). Risk and Rationality in Adolescent Decision Making: Implications for Theory, Practice, and Public Policy. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 7(1), 1-44.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78. DOI: 10.1037110003-066X.55.1.68

46 views0 comments


bottom of page