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Peer Pressure

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Peer Pressure is a fallacy in which a threat of rejection by one’s peer is substituted for evidence in an argument This reasoning has the following form:

 

Premise 1: Person P makes claim C.

Premise 2: Person P is pressured by his/her peers or threatened with rejection.

Conclusion: Therefore, person P’s claim C is false.

 

Alternatively,

 

Premise 1: Person P’s peers make claim C.

Premise 2: Person P initially rejects C.

Premise 3: Person P is pressured by his/her peers or threatened with rejection.

Conclusion: Therefore, claim C is true.

 

This line of “reasoning” is fallacious because peer pressure and threat of rejection do not constitute evidence for accepting or rejecting a claim. This is especially clear in the following example:

 

Joe: “Bill, I know you think that 1+1=2. But we don’t accept that sort of thing in our group. If you want to remain, you’ll need to reconsider this.”

Bill: “I was just joking. Of course, I don’t believe that.”

 

The pressure from Bill’s peer group has no bearing on the truth of the claim that 1+1=2. While people (usually) do not fall for such silly examples, the threat of rejection by a peer group can have considerable psychological force.

Loyalty to a group and the need to belong can give people very strong psychological reasons to conform to the views and positions of those groups and thus create fear of rejection. Also, for practical reasons people often compromise their beliefs to avoid being rejected.

Although this fallacy can be used in conjunction with Appeal to Group Identity, the error is different. In the case of Appeal to Group Identity, a person accepts a claim because of their identity with (or pride in) the group. In the case of Peer Pressure, it is the fear of rejection by the group that provides the psychological motivation.

 

Defense: The defense against this fallacy is to remember that while a threat of rejection by one’s peers can have considerable psychological force, it has no logical force.

 

Example #1:

Dorothy: “I like the idea that people should work for their welfare when they can.”

Karl: “You mean they always have to work?”

Dorothy: “No, just when they can work.”

Karl: “Hah! That is absurd.”

Jan: “Yes, that is the kind of thing a fascist would say.”

Fred: “Are you sure you want to be a member of the College Democrats?”

Dorothy: “I do. I’m sorry. I didn’t really think it through.”

 

Example #2:

Bill: “I like classical music and I think it is of higher quality than most modern music.”

Jill: “That stuff is for old people.”

Dave: “Yeah, only real sissy monkeys listen to that crap. Besides, Anthrax rules! It Rules!”

Bill: “Well, I don’t really like it that much. Anthrax is much better.”

 

Example #3:

Dorothy: “I think we do need social support in some cases. The pandemic really showed me that even hard-working people can get knocked down by events beyond their control.”

Karl: “So, you just mean during pandemics, right?”

Dorothy: “No, I mean even in normal times. If we ever have those.”

Karl: “Hah! That is absurd.”

Jan: “Yes, that is the kind of thing a communist would say.”

Fred: “Are you sure you want to be a member of the Young Republicans?”

Dorothy: “I do. I’m sorry. I didn’t really think it through.”

Originally appeared on A Philosopher’s Blog Read More

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