>>Male Presenter: Good afternoon. The term "peer pressure" often carries negative connotations of teens engaging in behaviors they otherwise might not, or families going into debt to keep up with their more affluent neighbors. But in her book, "Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World," Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Tina Rosenberg, argues there are powerful, sometimes overlooked, benefits of peer pressure; that if peer pressure can be an enticement for delinquent behavior, it can also be an enticement for positive behavior. The fearless Tina Rosenberg has spent her career tackling some of the world's most difficult problems. Her powerful 1995 book, "The Haunted Land" won both the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for examining Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain.
She was also the first freelance journalist to receive a MacArthur Fellowship Award. Imagine Junior High kids out behind the gymnasium, or in the locker room or bathroom, and instead of smoking, they're talking about how they can stay focused and get good grades in school. Or, imagine a discussion around a village well that centers on taking one's medications faithfully to overcome disease. These are the types of clubs she talks about and I suspect that after hearing her, you will also want to join the club. Tina Rosenberg. [applause] >>Tina Rosenberg: Thank you, Phil. Thank you Google for having me here today and to you all for coming to this talk. How many of you have children? Anybody? This is a younger crowd than I'm used to talking to.
Well, even if you don't have kids, you probably know all about peer pressure. It's something to worry about, right? We all know that if our kids have problems, if they get drawn into drugs, have a brush or two with the law, if they're acting out, even if they just go to the wrong parties, that's due to peer pressure. But what if our kids do fine? What if they're studying hard and acting respectfully and spending their spare time volunteering? The credit goes to your children, right? And to you for excellence in parenting. That can't be the result of peer pressure, can it? My book is about something we’ve been familiar with all our lives, but I hope it will provoke you to take a new look. We all know how mighty peer pressure is and we're accustomed to being afraid of it. But I argue that peer pressure can also be a powerful force for good. In the book, I tell stories of people in the United States and abroad who are using peer pressure to solve problems that could not be successfully attacked by other means.
The case we all know is Alcoholics Anonymous and it's a good example of what I'm talking about. You help people to change their behavior by giving them a new peer group, one that supports them and holds them accountable, one that they identify with. The thesis of my book is that people are unlikely to change their behavior because they receive new information, or because you've told them something that scares them to death. The most effective way to persuade someone to change is through identification. Provide them with people just like them, who have already made this change. I think we can all imagine at a gut-level how effective this can be for solving issues of personal resistance to temptation.
But the uses of peer pressure are far broader. And because of its effectiveness of scope, this "join the club" strategy, which I also call the social cure, opens up exciting new possibilities for solving social problems that we have come to think of as unsolvable. Let me give you a few examples. In the late 1990s, teen cigarette smoking was astronomically high in the United States. In 1997, 36.5% of all high school seniors smoked. This was really important because young people are practically the only people who start smoking. If you don't start by the time you're 24, you're probably not gonna start. And no one knew what to do about it. We had tried stressing to kids how dangerous cigarettes are, bombarding them with information. We had tried appealing to fear, putting up rows of gravestones on the billboards, telling them "smoking kills." And none of it was working.
There was a headline in the Washington Post in 1998 that said, "Officials seek a path to cut into haze of youth smoking. The bottom line, no one knows what works." Then the state of Florida found something that worked spectacularly well. It hired an advertising agency by the name of Crispin Porter and Bogusky. This agency had no experience at all with public health, but it did know how to sell to teenagers. Its staff sat down and looked at the problem, not from a public health perspective, but from the perspective of an ad man. Why do teens start smoking? A cigarette, after all, is a repulsive product. No one would buy a cigarette for itself. Once you start, you continue to smoke because you're hooked. But why do teens start in the first place? The answer is that for teens, a cigarette is not a delivery system for nicotine. It's a delivery system for rebellion.
It's a way for teens to tell adults, "I'm autonomous. You don't tell me what to do." It's a way for teens to look cool to their peers and feel cool to themselves. That's why the usual strategies don't work. Teens already know that cigarettes can kill them. In fact, teenagers overestimate the dangers of smoking. They think cigarettes are even worse than they are. Clearly, that's part of their appeal for teenagers. So, Crispin Porter's people thought, "What if we make not smoking a way to rebel, with the tobacco companies as the target?" They designed a series of TV spots, most of them written by teenagers themselves that showed kids rebelling against these corporate manipulators. They filmed teenagers making prank phone calls. For example, to the advertising agencies that worked on tobacco accounts.
They filmed a road trip, a group of kids who drove from Florida up to Richmond, Virginia, which is the headquarters of Phillip-Morris. And when they got to Phillip-Morris, they stop at the gate and they ask the guard if they could see the Marlboro Man. And the guard, who was clueless, told them, "Oh, I'm sorry. You can't see him. He's just died." And in fact, the actor who played the Marlboro Man in Phillip-Morris' TV commercials had just died of lung cancer. And they got this all on film. Accompanying the media spots was clubs that kids could join, clubs whose focus was rebelling against the tobacco industry. These clubs staged pranks and actions. After Florida, the strategy went national and I followed one group of kids in South Carolina who were doing the same thing. This group was called Rage Against the Haze, which gives you some idea of the tenor of it. And they stage events at high school football games and do things like take over the smoking section at Shoney's restaurants. They never attack smokers.
They never say you shouldn't smoke. Or worst of all, they never say that cigarette smoking is only for grown-ups. They just point out to teens how the cigarette manufacturers are manipulating them. This worked. It was the first time in history that anything had worked. Over the next two years, Florida saw the single biggest drop in teen smoking that the United States had ever seen. The strategy went nation-wide two years later. And until 2007, teen smoking nationwide continued to drop. Florida's teen smoking rate was cut in half in a decade and many other states did just as well. [pause] Now that's an example of the social cure working at a very personal level. But it has also accomplished social change on a very grand scale. Let's look at another success of the social cure, a very different kind of success, and one that's probably more surprising, which is the fall of Slobodan Miloševi? in Serbia. In October of 1998, 1998 evidently being a very good year for the social cure, a group of about eleven students at Belgrade University started to meet to plan to get rid of Miloševi?.
They called themselves "Otpor," which in Serbian means "resistance." And they didn't do any of the things that normal political movements do. Otpor did not see its job as giving Serbs information about how terrible the dictatorship was. Serbs already knew that. It was their lives. They were living it. Lack of information was not the problem. Instead, these students defined their task as motivating people to do something about it. Serbs under Miloševi? were fearful and passive. They felt powerless. They thought of themselves purely as victims. The challenge for Otpor was how to overcome this mentality. How do you get people out of their houses and into the street? They decided to try to motivate people by providing them with a new group to join that would allow them to think of themselves as daring heroes, instead of as passive victims. They did it by making their movement the coolest club to belong to. Like the students in Florida, they used pranks.
They didn't use any speeches or marches. Instead, their bread and butter was street theater. They adapted the sensibility of a TV show they had all grown up watching, Monty Python's Flying Circus. One of their most famous pranks was to roll an oil drum down a major pedestrian street in Belgrade, with Miloševi?'s picture painted on the side. Serbs could insert a coin in the slot and then could earn the privilege of taking a bat and whacking the oil drum. The police didn't know what to do about this. They couldn't let it go. They couldn't permit people to take a bat to the face of Miloševi?. But when they arrested the barrel, because the actual people had all fled, the government looked ridiculous. Otpor also decided that it could use danger to its advantage. When the organization realized that its members were very likely to get arrested, but that rarely were they arrested, even held overnight, it decided to begin to provoke arrest. Every time any of its members were arrested, Otpor would gather other members, lawyers, and opposition journalists, to gather outside the police station. If they had to, the group would stay for hours, making enough noise so the detainees inside could hear them. The detainees would come out of the police station two hours later, or nine hours later, and be met by a crowd of supporters.
They'd give interviews to the journalists and then go tell their stories over beer. The effect of this was that young men started to compete to get arrested. I met a young man in the city of Novi Sad who had a competition with another Otpor member there. He had been arrested at least 17 times. "You are a kid in the countryside," said Vesna Dozet, who was Otpor's Belgrade office manager. "Your parents are unhappy. They have no work and no money and they're getting drunk. Then you join Otpor. You are still some kid from nowhere, but now they've given you a cell phone. It's your job to go to the bus station and give a code to the driver to pick up a package of posters from Belgrade. Then you spirit it away and give it to your friends and they put up the posters during the night. Young people become partisans. You were never a part of anything and all of a sudden, you feel that you're a part of something." Life under Miloševi? was very boring.
Otpor allowed people to become their own James Bond. Using pranks like these, and the coolest black t-shirts and great design, Otpor grew. In October 1998, the group started with eleven members. Two years later, it had at least 70,000. People were joining so fast that Otpor couldn't register them all. And Miloševi? fell. This was not Otpor's victory alone by any means. But it provided Serbia with a crucial model of nonviolent discipline and the ground troops of the revolution. Most important, it broke the country's fear. So, here are two examples: one is a program run by the Department of Health in Florida that aims to change personal behaviors; the other was run by an underground political movement and aimed to build national political activism in Serbia to topple the dictator. These two examples are about as different as they can be in almost every way, but they are at bottom the same idea. They work because they appeal to what motivates us the most, our desire to belong.
We crave the respect of our peers and a connection to the group. Whatever the prevailing social norm of the group is, we tend to follow it. If we are uncomfortable following it, we will often change groups in order to find one that we are comfortable with. Both the anti-smoking campaign and Otpor gave kids a new group to belong to and a new activity that made them feel respected and feel admired. Our willingness to change our lives in order to win peer approval is greater in some groups than in others. For teenagers for example, the respect of peers is as important as food and oxygen. For soldiers, well, think about this for a minute. Armies have always run on young men drafted to fight for a cause that they may not fully understand and probably don't consider their own, yet they will come out of the safety of the fox hole to charge up Hamburger Hill.
Why will they do this? Everyone knows the answer. They do it for their buddies. They do not want to be seen as cowardly in their buddy's eyes. They wanna be heroic. And because their friends see them that way, they see themselves that way. Another group of people with whom the social cure works particularly well is very poor people. And I'm talking about the poorest people in the world. The parts of the world that face the greatest problems are also the parts of the world that have the fewest resources to be able to deal with them. People who live in rural villages in the Third World, for example, don't have the financial capital to spend money to solve social problems. Because they don't get good health care or good education, they also tend to lack the necessary human capital as well. But one kind of capital they have in abundance is social capital, their bonds with each other. Poor people usually have far more of this in fact than wealthier people.
Middle-class Americans are particularly lacking in social capital. We can thank the American dream of the big house in the suburbs, car commuting, and the family swing set in the backyard that's used by only our children. It has been a part of the American dream since the 1950s to structure your life so you see the fewest amount of other human beings. But for those living in rural villages or urban slums, other human beings are often all they have. To see what a crucial resource social capital can be, we need look no further than what has been the most important idea in development in the last 40 years, microcredit. Let's go back to the 1970s and look at what Muhammad Yunus did in Bangladesh with Grameen Bank. Yunus did not invent the idea of tiny loans to tiny entrepreneurs. Other groups, for example Axion in Brazil, were already doing this although I'm sure Yunus didn't about it at the time. The genius of what Yunus did was not to invent micro credit, but to figure out how to use it on an enormous scale.
Now why wouldn't banks lend money to destitute women in villages? It would never had occurred to banks to do so, mainly for two reasons. First of all, these women had nothing that banks would ever consider collateral. And second of all, the transaction costs of determining each borrower's credit worthiness would have been an astronomical percentage of the tiny loans that the banks were going to give them. What Yunus did was figure out that the women did have collateral and he found a way to shift the transaction cost of determining credit worthiness from the shoulders of the banks onto the shoulders of the borrowers themselves. What was the most valuable thing these women had? Their social standing in the village. Grameen used this.
It formed women into groups of borrowers, say five people in a group. Initially, Grameen operated under the principle of joint liability. If one person in the group did not repay a loan, then no one else in the group could get another one. But Grameen gradually stopped enforcing the rule of joint liability. And in the year 2001, it did away with it entirely. Joint liability proved not to be necessary. The risk of losing social standing and the respect of their peers was enough to keep women repaying their loans. So Grameen and other micro lenders did not have to worry about identifying collateral or determining credit worthiness. Peer pressure did that job for them. This made giving out huge numbers of loans cost effective. Peer pressure is what makes micro credit work. Peer pressure has also been used in other ways to solve the problems of the rural poor. Forty years ago, in the eastern part of Maharashtra state in India, a husband and wife pair of Indian doctors decided to try to do something to improve rural village health. The project, which is called the Comprehensive Rural Health Project in the city of Jamkhed, has become one of the most successful and long-lasting community health worker programs in the world. It has greatly improved many aspects of life in the villages where it works.
It has brought better health, but also has made people more prosperous and helped to soften the caste system. [pause] The pair of doctors, whose names were Raj and Mabelle Arole, realized that they could not recruit doctors to go to rural villages. Doctors simply would not stay. They tried for nurses. And they found that nurses wouldn't stay either. Next, they decided to use auxiliary nurses, who are younger women with less training than nurses. One day in 1971, Raj Arole was visiting the village of Saket, where Jamkhed had an auxiliary nurse. The nurse was very good at curing illnesses, but she had not been able to convince villagers to change their ways in order to prevent disease. Prevention is the very foundation of rural health: boiling water, breastfeeding, improving the variety of foods that mothers give their children, vaccinations, eliminating standing water, disposing of waste.
These are the important things and these require behavior change. The mayor of Saket told Arole that the problem was the nurse was too foreign and too young. She had no children of her own and therefore, had little credibility with village mothers. Then the mayor mentioned a woman from a nearby village, named Mrs. Jashabi, who was employed by the government as a promoter of family planning. When he watched her work, the mayor said, he marveled at her ability to connect with and explain things to village women. Part of the reason, he said, is that she was one of them. Mrs. Jashabi had only gone to school for four years. It suddenly occurred to the Aroles that instead of being a handicap, perhaps her lack of education was an advantage. Mrs. Jashabi understood how to reach the people who most needed reaching, illiterate poor village women. She knew how they thought and lived, because she was one of them. The Aroles then made a very curious decision.
They would go completely in the opposite direction from doctors and nurses. They asked villages to choose a woman from each village who was capable and intelligent, but who was completely downtrodden. They chose women who were largely illiterate, destitute, married with children. One woman I met had been married at the age of two and a half. And all of the women I met had been married by 13. Most were from the untouchable, or Dalit, caste. Some were even cured leprosy patients, women whose fingers were still mangled. The Aroles reasoned that these were the women who would care most about the health of the poorest of the poor. The Aroles found that training the women in the skills they needed was not hard to do.
The hard part was giving these women confidence, the confidence to speak up and to believe they had something important to say to their fellow villagers. Remember, these were women who traditionally had to walk with a little broom to erase their footprints as they walked lest others be contaminated by them. The solution was peer pressure. Each new trainee was sent to the village of a more experienced community health worker. There, she could see the woman who started out just like herself had become bold and assertive. She could see that it could be done. After the initial training, the women came back to the main campus of Jamkhed every Tuesday to stay overnight. They study a new health topic every week, but probably more important, they renew their bonds with the sisterhood of community health workers.
The Jamkhed villages that I visited look like they're from a different century than the villages nearby. Indian statistics have long shown that Jamkhed villages are far healthier than their neighbors. I attended one of the Tuesday meetings of Jamkhed and I asked the health workers, "What are the biggest health problems in your villages?" The three they mentioned were diabetes, arthritis, and hypertension. These are rich country diseases. Only the luckiest die of such illnesses in rural India. But in villages in the Jahmked program, there is no more malaria, no more active leprosy and tuberculosis, very little diarrhea. Women no longer die in childbirth. Birth weights have risen because pregnant women know what to eat and there's no more nonsense about starving them. Jamkhed villages have clean water, drainage systems for eliminating standing waste water.
They have planted millions of trees and have gardens, so they can eat spinach and papaya with their sorghum bread. This model is particularly interesting because of its potential to do things that go beyond the provision of health. It could be aimed at bringing other kinds of services to rural areas of poor countries that lack them. I could imagine, for example, how village men might be trained as agricultural extension agents to bring improved farming practices to their villages. Or, and this could be the most important thing they could do, they could start chapters of Alcoholics Anonymous. People could be trained to bring social norms to their villages that express the modern world. For example, better treatment of girl children, ending abuses of brides and reducing domestic violence. They could learn to help their fellow villagers to start small businesses and get loans. In all these cases, the best people to spread credible messages in villages are the villagers themselves. And the best teachers for them are their peers in the program.
If you had asked me a few years ago to name a way that peer pressure could be used for positive ends, I might have said "Alcoholics Anonymous" and not been able to think of anything else. Now I see it everywhere and I see potential uses for it everywhere. It's obvious, I think, how the social cure can be used in intimate struggles of addiction or temptation. But some of these very personal battles now have national implication. Take health care for example. One of the most expensive problems in health care in America is also one of the most ignored. And that is poor treatment adherence. Simply put, we are very bad at doing what doctors tell us to do. We have trouble taking our medicines correctly or on time, even when those pills are making a difference between life and death. We have even more trouble adopting healthy habits, like eating better or exercising more.
Doctors are very uncomfortable dealing with adherence and most of them don't deal with it. Some of them just fire patients who don't follow advice. Yet, this is a problem that is costing us billions of dollars a year and is responsible for untold amounts of sickness and death. The looming disaster of diabetes in America is really going to be an adherence problem. We need to deal with adherence and so far, not much we have done had proven to work. There is, however, proven strategy and it is in widespread use around the globe, practically everywhere but in the United States. It is called DOTS, which stands for Directly Observed Treatment Short Course. The short course is a misnomer because DOTS was invented to help tuberculosis patients complete a six month course of treatment, which is not short. Without DOTS, many TB patients stop taking their pills before they were cured because they didn't like the side effects, because their lives were chaotic, or simply because they started to feel better.
DOTS does something very simple. It provides TB patients with a buddy, a friend, a family member, or a health care worker, who comes to the patients house every day to watch the patient take her pills. It is a very cheap strategy. In fact, it is often free. And it works. People who otherwise don't take their pills will do so when someone comes to their house to support them and hold them accountable. When DOTS arrived in Ukraine, the cure rate for tuberculosis rose from 57%to 81%. When DOTS arrived in China, the cure rate in DOTS areas went from 50% to 94%. It is now the world standard for treating tuberculosis. And creative organizations, such as Partners in Health, are using DOTS to help treat other diseases as well. For example, to help patients take their AIDS medicines on time. Why don't we use DOTS in America? We give people bottles of pills with "take with food" on them.
Why don't they also say "take with spouse," or "take with child?" A seven-year old would love this job. Some people are starting to do this. Partners in Health in Boston is using DOTS to help its most difficult patients, the emergency room frequent flyers, stick to their treatment plans. And it is working. These patients are healthier and they're saving a lot of money because they spend a lot less time in the hospital. The story of Otpor is the clearest illustration of the versatility of the social cure, of the variety of social problems that it might be able to attack. This story is not just a Serbian story as a group of former Otpor leaders are now travelling the world training democracy movements. Their first successes came with training the leaders of the Rose Revolution in Georgia, and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. And they have gone on now to train democracy activists from nearly 40 countries around the world.
One group the Otpor leaders trained was Egypt's April 6th Movement. And many of the tactics that we could see in Tahrir Square came directly from Otpor. But the potential uses of the social cure are broader than toppling dictatorship. Think for a minute about what it was that Otpor was aiming to create in Serbia. Democracy wasn't their direct product. That was only their indirect aim. What Otpor aimed to do was to create protagonists. It created activists, people who were willing to abandon their couches and go out into the street and take risks until they had accomplished their goal. That goal happened to be getting rid of Slobodan Miloševi?. But it could've been many other things. They could have aimed instead at saving Darfur, or reducing climate change, or fighting corruption. I do wanna be cautious here. It is easier in some ways to mobilize people in life or death situations than to accomplish more ordinary political change among comfortable middle-class people in a democracy. But there are ways that the social cure can create catalysts for other goals.
I don't have to tell you how important the ability to mobilize people can be. [pause] I want to briefly mention one of the most intriguing examples of the uses of the social cure that I have found. And that is its potential use in fighting terrorism. First, a little background. Why do people join cults? It is largely due to peer pressure. This has been studied over and over again. Young men joined gangs, for example, because their friends do. It is almost entirely because their friends do. The same is true with cults. This has been studied with the Baader-Meinhof Gang, the Moonies and other groups. People do not fall in with a cult because they're interested in the cult's ideas. It works the other way around. You meet someone who brings you into the group.
That group is so strong, so cohesive, attractive and persuasive, that gradually you start becoming alienated from everyone else who thinks differently. Your social circle starts to narrow to the group itself. You exist in a cocoon. This is classic group dynamics theory. There is a persuasive argument that Islamic terrorism works the same way. Marc Sageman, who was a forensic psychiatrist and former CIA agent, who has studied who become a Jihadi, concludes that the vast majority of young men who become terrorists get radicalized far from their roots. They are, for example, from Morocco or Egypt, attending University in Europe. Or, they may be European-born to immigrant families. The powerful social norms of their communities are far away. Adrift with no anchor, they fall in with the radical group. The vicious circle of the group dynamic radicalizes them further. Soon, one of the members makes contact with Al-Qaida or goes to work on his own.
Now what if that vicious circle could instead become a virtuous circle? If negative peer pressure is so important in radicalizing young men, perhaps positive peer pressure can steer them down a different path. In a rough neighborhood of South London, there is a place that tries to do just this. It is a group called STREET, which stands for Strategy To Reach, Empower, and Educate Teens. It was founded by an extraordinary man named Abdul Haqq Baker, who was the former chairman of the local mosque, which is called the Brixton Mosque. Baker is a Londoner, born to Nigerian and Ghanese parents. He converted to Islam from Catholicism in his early 20s. He's also a PhD in Political Science from the University of Exeter. His dissertation was about how convert communities can work to prevent terrorism.
The mosque serves a largely Afro-Caribbean, largely convert population. And many of those who are not converts immigrated to Britain from other countries. Among its worshippers were Zacarias Moussaoui, the 20th hijacker, and Richard Reid, the shoe-bomber. But neither of those men was radicalized at the Brixton Mosque. The mosque is Salafi. It is fundamentalist, hardline, but absolutely non-violent. Reid left the mosque because he was dissatisfied with its non-violence. Moussaoui was kicked out for his aggressive views. When these two men dropped out of sight, only to surface later committing acts of terror, Baker realized that he needed more than a mosque. He needed a place where the people who were most at risk for radicalization would go if he wanted to do something about Islamic violence.
So, he started STREET. STREET, in some ways, is a traditional anti-gang organization. It offers its clients soccer, boxing, a place to hang out, and it can hook them up with job training or schooling. Many of its clients come straight from prison. And it has been the destination of choice for London probation, for Muslim offenders who were paroled and considered susceptible to terrorist messages. But what sets STREET apart from other anti-gang initiatives, is that it has a de-radicalization unit. If a client mentions a particular Al-Qaida video, or a radical tract, the staff members, most of whom are also fundamentalist Salafi's, will watch it or read it with the client. They point out the Islamic fallacies and just as important, they point out the propaganda techniques that that video or tract is using. They show the clients how they are being manipulated, just like teenagers in Florida.
STREET's motto is "For you, from people like you." The idea is that the staff should mirror the client to the greatest extent possible. Many of the staff, in fact, were clients. They share the client's hardline views and they share the client's grievances. They have street cred. Where they part ways is at the last step. They do not believe that Islam is in a war with the West. They do not believe that violence is the response. They seek to give young men who were tempted by terrorism, a new peer group of people who are like them in every way but one. Does this work? Well, we don't know for sure. It is hard to prove a negative, terrorist incidences averted. Baker will also not talk about specific cases. He feels his first commitment is to his clients and they would consider it a betrayal for him to use their stories. But I have talked to the people who work with STREET in official Britain, including probation officers, who thought the group was very effective.
London probation was actually trying to enlarge STREET so it could take more and more of the young men coming out of prison. Now we will never know if STREET is effective. The new coalition in government in Britain decided it could not work with Salafi groups and so, it has cut off STREET's funding. The government did not understand that holding fundamentalist, religious views is a very different thing than espousing violence, and that people who hold these views may be the very people who are most effective at preventing young men from falling into terror. It is logical, really, that peer pressure can get us out of so many bad situations, because peer pressure is what gets us into them in the first place. If you knock on doors in housing projects in poor neighborhoods in America and ask mothers and grandmothers what it is that they're most afraid of, chances are they will say that it's peer pressure. "My son is a good boy," the mother will tell you. "But he runs with a bad crowd.
" Peer pressure helps fill prisons. It keeps emergency rooms busy treating high school students who can't tell a friend that he's too drunk to drive, and young men who must maintain the respect of their group by answering every perceived slight with violence. Peer pressure crowds bankruptcy courts with people who did nothing wrong other than want to buy what others already had. The smoker, dying of lung cancer at 75, sixty years after he smoked his first cigarette has something in common with the woman dying of AIDS at the age of 25. In a sense, they're both dying of peer pressure. We are all good boys at risk of the bad crowd. Peer pressure is a mighty and terrible force, so powerful that for the vast majority of people, the best antidote to it is more peer pressure. There are many different stories of salvation in my book, of people weighing babies together, doing math problems, playing soccer, making prank phone calls, getting arrested or sharing pot luck suppers. A lifeline can take many different forms. What matters is that at the other end, someone's hand is there. Thank you very much.
[applause] Now I'm pleased to take any comments or questions. [pause] >>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #1: Thank you for speaking today. And my question has to do with social media. We're a technology company– >>Tina Rosenberg: I noticed. >>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #1: [chuckle] and I curious if you've seen any examples of positive peer pressure using social media or if you envision anything like that happening? >>Tina Rosenberg: That's a very good question. And as I was working on the book, I was thinking very carefully about this. And the answer is I don't think so yet. I may be proved wrong about this, and I'll be happy to be proved wrong. It's a bit complicated. There's certainly examples of social media alone, being able to exert negative peer pressure on people. For example, Islamic chat groups over the internet that are a very powerful force. that can be a very powerful force in radicalizing young men, even without having other people face to face with them. The chat group serves as a substitute social group. And then we have the example that you see most strongly in Japan of suicide groups that meet over the internet and radicalize each other, get each other, increase the acceptability of suicide as a social norm, by belonging to this internet chat group where everybody is there precisely because they're interested in committing suicide.
But I have yet to see really good examples of it working in the other direction. I think social media can be very useful to helping to support a social cure because it's a very good way to communicate with your membership. It's a very efficient way to tell people what's going on. For example, in Egypt, this was used quite a bit. The face group, the famous face group of April 6 Movement was very useful to tell people about what was happening. But the revolution didn't happen online. The revolution happened because they were excellent at organizing in the street. The other thing social media can do is it can help you learn. It's a very good way, especially if you live, for example, in a repressive country, to be able to find out about the experiences of other people who have used this. And Otpor, for example, has found that their books and pamphlets and materials, which are translated into all sorts of different languages, are very, very frequently downloaded in countries like Iran and other places where they might not have other ways of learning about how to effectively do a revolution.
But the question is can it be in itself a social cure? There is some evidence that in health, you can have an internet buddy and it helps you. For example, there are experiments that set up a person with diabetes with another person with diabetes. And they never meet, but they check in with each other over the internet a couple times a day, perhaps. Have you taken your walk today? Are you having any problems with these medications? Yes, I had the same problem. And that can be useful in helping people to adhere better to their treatment plan. But the evidence so far is that it doesn't work as well as a face to face program. However, we have to take into account that there are an awful lot of people who just aren't gonna get to a face to face program, but they will sit down at their computer every day. In fact, they're doing that anyway. So, let's not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I think if these programs can reach people that otherwise can't be reached by face to face programs, then yes.
I think they can be useful but not quite as useful as the real human touch. >>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #1: Thank you. >>Tina Rosenberg: Mm-hmm. >>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #2: I'll just talk out loud. But if we're all good boys, using your term, why does it seem like the negative influences of peer pressure are so much more pervasive than the positive examples? >>Audience Member: Can you repeat it? >>Tina Rosenberg: The question was, if we're all good boys, why are the negative forces of peer pressure, why do they seem to be more pervasive than the positive forces? Well, there's several reasons. First of all, like I said in my opening example of the talk, when it's positive we don't think of it as peer pressure. We think of it as us. My kids are doing great in school.
I don't think it's because they're running with a great crowd. I think it's 'cause I have great kids, or I'm a great parent. So, you tend to discount it. The negative part, you look for what the bad influences are. So, I think that's part of it. I think the other part is that we tend not to notice positive peer pressure so much because that's the expectation we have of our lives. And the news is when you get the negative part. And there's a third reason, which is that for teenagers, and often peer pressure is really talked of in terms of teenagers, the negative forces can be more powerful for biological reasons. I mean, teenagerdom is when you're supposed to be rebelling against your parents and it's also a time when your brain is not fully formed and mature. And the last part of your brain to mature is the part that regulates judgment, which is a fact no parent would ever have any doubt about.
So, I think teenagers are particularly susceptible to negative peer pressure and it might be a little harder to do the positive part with them. But for adults, I don't think it is. I think you can really find that for adults, positive peer pressure can be even more powerful than the negative. Yes. >>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #3: It's a question about children. So, I have a seven-year old and I can see how he's susceptible to peer pressure. And the question is what I should nurture, like independent mind-set on him while I still can, or it's not gonna happen. [Tina Rosenberg laughs] >>Tina Rosenberg: Is it a lost cause? My response to that is what you do probably has very little effect in either direction unfortunately.
Parents, we like to think that we can have a lot of influence over our kids, but I'm not really sure that that's true. I think, however, that if there's one important thing you can do for your child it is steering him towards a peer group that is a healthy one. And how do you do that? I mean, you obviously cannot choose your child's friends, but you can introduce your child to different clubs, to different activities that he might like, to different groups of kids that he might like. And gradually, that kid will start making friends in those groups. In my opinion, that's the most useful thing a parent can do. >>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #3: Thank you. >>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #4: I was just wondering if the research you've done affects your opinion of culture, which is maybe peer pressure on a larger scale and maybe the usefulness, or uselessness of it.
>>Tina Rosenberg: That's a good question. I mean, what is culture? And in the book, I define it as however a group expresses its groupness. What are the rituals and things that a group does that set us apart from people outside the group? And it's value-neutral. I mean, culture isn't a good thing or a bad thing. And I think it's also something that's invisible from within. For example, if I were a professional woman in Minnesota, I might be wearing no make-up to work, a long skirt, big chunky square glasses, big chunky square-heeled shoes, and that would be perfectly normal. If I were a professional woman in Caracas, Venezuela, I would dress quite differently. I would wear false eyelashes. I would wear a tube top that shows prominently the results of my breast enlargement surgery, a short skirt and high heels. And I would think that was perfectly normal. And if I saw the woman from Minnesota, I would think, "What are you thinking?" And vice versa. But we cannot see that from inside.
You only see, you only consider it to be culture when it's someone else you're looking at. >>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #5: Culture and this whole group thing, humans are very social creatures and it's one of the things that kinda defines us. And I feel actually, I worked in Human Social Behavior prior to coming to Google. And this whole thing of positive peer pressure, it seems like it's been part of us since the beginning. It actually seems like it's something that evolved for us, evolved to make things better. >>Tina Rosenberg: I think that's right. >>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #5: It's something that has been positive from the start. And I think it's good that you're reminding us of us. Many people seem to be unaware of that. This is something that helps us a lot. >>Tina Rosenberg: I think you're right.
I think it's part of our evolutionary structure because it used to be that our groups were our family, extended family. And so, if you were nice to your group, your genes would have a much better chance of being passed down. And we retain that. I do think that on the positive side, there is resurgence in the United States of the idea that we need to be around other humans. And you see it in many ways. For example, in real estate prices the traditional suburbs that require a car and have no walkability, have no town center, the price per square foot of land in those suburbs is dropping, where the price per square foot of land in new walkable suburbs, or cities, is rising. And part of that is oil prices. But part of it is this feeling that I think is very strong among young people that we don't wanna be isolated anymore.
We really want to have contact with other people and we need that. And it's part of what keeps us healthy. There's a lot of research that shows that our social bonds are something that help to maintain our health for us. >>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #5: There's one other thing I wanna discuss. You mentioned how we have social capital and it's more prevalent in poor people than middle-class or rich people. And do you think there's, I think this is completely tied to people's happiness. I notice most people who are middle-class or even rich, don't tend to be very happy with what goes on in their life, while someone in some area of the world, well, they're just doing simple things but have people around them to be very happy. Now do you think there's any way we can reach out to maybe our supposed civilized world who think they're so high up and say, "Hey. We've got the cure for happiness. It's right here within us.
" >>Tina Rosenberg: There's a lot of research going on now about happiness this whole new branch of social science, happiness research. And they find that actually income does not determine happiness, you're right. It's not that poor people are happier, but they're not considerably less happy than wealthier people as long as your basic needs are met. If you're starving to death then you're not gonna be as happy. So, I think there is a lot to that. One very interesting piece of evidence is studies of people who win the lottery. People who win the lottery don't generally do very well afterwards. They tend to be much less happy. And there was a very interesting study that compared the happiness levels of people who won the lottery to people who had accidents that put them in a wheelchair for the rest of their lives. And they found that the people in the wheelchairs were happier than the lottery winners. And the speculation is that one reason for that is lottery winners tend to buy a big mansion on the hill and isolate themselves.
And they also tend to get very suspicious of people around them because all of a sudden everyone wants a piece of them. So, winning the lottery can actually make you less happy in part by isolating you from a social group. >>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #5: One more question. >>Tina Rosenberg: Please. >>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #5: Besides social media, do you see any role of technology that can augment peer pressure in positive ways? >>Tina Rosenberg: [pause] That's an interesting question. I think that for many groups that form, it's obviously very important to have technology to be able to communicate to their members. But social media and technology are platforms. They're like sky writing or traveling minstrels or anything else. You can use them for good or for bad. So, I would say that these are really value-neutral. And they can increase our social bonds in some ways, but I think in some ways they also serve to decrease their social bonds.
Witness the number of people walking down the street now who are only looking down at their thumbs. We tend to do, to look less at people around us. That's not a very original observation, but. >>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #5: Thank you. >>Tina Rosenberg: Thank you. Anyone else? Thank you so much for coming today. It's been a pleasure. [applause].