Effects Of Social Pressure On Academic Performance

. Essay, Research Paper Abstract The current experiment investigates the effects of different types of social pressure on academic performance of entering freshmen. Ninety undergraduate students (45 males and 45 females) were randomly assigned to three equal groups. Students of the first group experienced positive social pressure and their first semester GPA’s were used as a dependent variable.

. Essay, Research Paper


The current experiment investigates the effects of different types of social pressure on academic performance of entering freshmen. Ninety undergraduate students (45 males and 45 females) were randomly assigned to three equal groups. Students of the first group experienced positive social pressure and their first semester GPA’s were used as a dependent variable. Those in the second group experienced negative social pressure. Meanwhile, students in a third control group experienced no social pressure at all. Using a one way ANOVA of the independent variable, the experimenters found a significant difference in the GPA’s of the students. A Tukey’s post hoc analysis showed that the significance of the effect was found between the positive and control groups as well as the positive and negative groups.

The Role of Social Pressure on Academic Performance of Entering Freshmen

According to Rosabeth Kanter (1977), the more isolated the minority group members are among majority persons, the less likely they are to be successful academically. However, the higher the proportion of minority members in a group, the more likely they are to be successful. She also suggested that the presence of female students in a male dominated law school tend to affect their achievements. She also claimed that minority students are perceived as tokens or symbols and not as individuals. There are three main characteristics of a token student that can be explained as forms of social pressure. First, they are highly visible, thus they face performance demands that can be met by over achieving. As a result, they face performance pressure and they tend to perform differently than other dominant individuals. Second: token individuals tend to polarize and this polarization leads to further isolation. Third: token individuals suffer from role entrapment. They are stereotyped and expected to behave according to these stereotyping. Using these 3 characteristics of social pressure, she hypothesized that female students with fewer female colleagues will do less well academically (i.e. performance pressure), will be less integrated into law school (i.e. isolation) and will chose stereotypical female careers and studies (i.e. role entrapment)

Spangler, Gordon& Pipkin (1978) tested this token hypothesis. They investigated female law students in a male dominated law school. They operationally defined the 3 social pressure characteristics of a token student as follows: for performance pressure: grades, volunteering to speak in class and answering yes or no to a question about considering withdrawal from law school. For social isolation: measuring the amount of leisure time spent with other law students and membership of extracurricular groups. For role entrapment: extent to which female students select stereotypical feminine practice area (e.g. divorce). After administering these questions, they concluded that these three social pressure characteristics do exist when female students are a very small minority in a male dominated law school. They added that these characteristics would influence the over all performance of these female students.

Meanwhile, Allen & Bragg (1968) investigated the effect of social pressure on learning acquisition. In their experiment, they tested the attainment of the concept of colored circles and triangles by subjects. They had three groups: the first group was called the veridical feedback group in which subjects received correct feedback for their answers. In the second group, called non-veridical group, subjects received incorrect feedback for their answers. The third group, control group received no feedback at all. They observed that subjects in the first group significantly perform better than those in the other two groups. Thus, they concluded that social pressure (i.e. veridical feedback vs. non-veridical feedback) affected concept acquisition. They extended their experiment to include two more groups; one group, veridical- non veridical: subjects of this group got correct feedback for their first task then incorrect feedback in their second task. Another group, non veridical – veridical; subjects of this group got incorrect response in their first task then correct response in their second task. They observed that the non veridical-veridical group showed a transfer effect. In other words, social pressure resulted in poorer performance in the second task. This research illustrated that a group of peers can strongly influence the concept attainment of each member. Agreement with the group is therefore

advantageous for the individual in some circumstances(i.e. if the group is right) and disadvantageous in other circumstances(i.e. if the group is wrong). If this group gives correct information, it exerts a positive social pressure by facilitating concept attainment. However, if the group start giving incorrect information, a member s learning will be hindered. They also concluded that the most efficient relation of the individual to a group is conformity when the group is correct and nonconformity if the group is incorrect.

Asali, Khamaysi, Aburabia, Letzer & et al (1995) interviewed 21 Bedouin women in Israel about the history of their Ritual Female Genital Surgery RFGS or circumcision. Ironically, the most common reason for this horrible habit was social pressure. Women interviewed indicated that their mothers were the primary decision-makers of this mutilation ritual. Those mothers used pressuring remarks to their daughters. For example, some mothers indicated that women who do not have circumcision are not good cooks and are not clean! Despite the fact that most of these interviewed women do not experience any sexual pleasure, the insisted that they are going to do the same thing to their daughters. They explained that by doing so, they can keep traditions. This research is yet another example of how social pressure can be a negative pressure. Those women do not mind giving up their sexual pleasure because they cannot oppose the social pressure exerted on them.

Schlenker, Philips, Bioneicki & Schlenker (1995) indicated that social pressure could produce social anxiety, which can eventually lead to a decrement in performance. To translate this into the world of sports, a strong team may lose a championship game due to social pressure. This social pressure is in the form of self-doubts and fear of failure. However, they disagreed

with the explanation that social pressure may lead to home choking of a certain team. They indicated that those teams which do not perform well at their home field do not suffer from disruptive fantasies of success in front of their supportive audience. Instead, they do not perform well because of fear of failure that creates a social pressure on them. They concluded by giving their advice to a team to take the home field if they can.

Luchins & Luchins (1967) indicated that subject s conformity with social pressure to judge incorrectly would result in his not being to perform an assigned task. In other words, social pressure can cause people to judge incorrectly. In their experiments, they showed that subjects agreed with an incorrect answer after they overheard it from a confederate. They did so because the confederate received a 100 per cent correct score even though he gave incorrect answers. Meanwhile they disagreed with a correct answer after they overheard it from a confederate. They did so because in this case the confederate received a 0 per cent score even though he gave correct answers. They explained that social forces in life are not anti-human. People accept a warning sign in a bottle of poison or a high voltage wire. They have faith that these signs are not deceiving and there is no need to test them. However, if social forces are deceptive, humans may have perished. People need to conform to social norms, values and instructions that are not deceptive but true and helpful. They also need to withstand social pressure that opposes objective evidence.

According to Frith (1997), social pressure can affect a student s performance by influencing his or her motivation. Putting doubts into a student s mind is a form of social pressure that can reduce his or her motivation. Grades and social status can have great motivational power; however, this power is negative most of the time. Meanwhile praising from the instructor and stressing on the importance of learning more than anything else have a positive motivational power. He concluded that motivation to learn is internal and comes from the individual but external social factors (i.e. grades and educators) shape this motivation.

Rewarding a behavior can sometimes make it less likely to occur or improve (Tucker-Ladd). Accordingly, a reward can sometimes be considered as a negative social pressure. For example, a student may study just to get a grade and not because he is interested in the subject he is studying. The desire to learn would be overlooked and hence performance can start to wane. Researches are finding that internal satisfaction in performing important tasks is definitely related to how much people achieve and what their attitudes are toward their work. It is important that a task feel important to a person in order for him to want to perform well with the task. Thus it can be concluded that most people in this pay-off society will definitely depend upon the praise and grades in order for their performance to improve rather than the quality of their efforts. Accordingly, students should perform worse in school when the social attitude presented is not uplifting (i.e. negative social pressure)

Brickman, Linsenmeir & McCareins (1976) had shown that success enhances motivation and future performance if this success is identified as relevant to the student s expectancy about future performance. Meanwhile failure is effective in improving performance when it is identified as irrelevant to the student s expectancy about future performance. On the other hand students who do not expect at all will be less motivated. This can be applied in schools. A teacher can exert a positive pressure by telling a student that it is not the end of the world that this student did not pass the midterm exam, and that he still gets a good chance of passing the course despite the student s expectancy of doing otherwise. A teacher can also exert a positive pressure in a different way. He can do so by telling a student that succeeded a midterm exam that his success means that he can do even better in the final and that this student s expectation of success in the final is very realistic. However, there is a problem with this conclusion; a teacher is simply asked to be double-faced with his student by telling one student that the midterm means nothing and telling another student that the midterm is a strong indicator.

This experiment is trying to investigate not only negative social pressure but also positive pressure. The experimenters are trying to determine if there is any effect of social pressure, whether positive or negative, on academic performance of entering freshmen. The experimenters expect that negative social pressure should hinder academic performance.

Meanwhile, positive social pressure is expected to enhance academic performance.



Ninety entering freshmen (45 males, 45 females) at Brooklyn College were selected at random and took part in the experiment. Their ages ranged from 17 to 19. The students were all selected without their explicit knowledge of an experiment but were informed of possible test procedures that are conducted at random on entering freshmen by an administrator at the school. The use of random assignment allowed for a test population socially and culturally representative of the freshmen class as a whole.

Since the students were not explicitly aware of their participation, they were not offered any incentives for volunteering. Participation required one full semester of study at Brooklyn College. The participants were tested simultaneously.

The use of six confederates was also needed. The confederates were all upper-level psychology students at Brooklyn College and were all paid 20 dollars for their help.


In order for the experiment to take place, all that was required was a university that provided grades for the subjects. Also, a suitable meeting place for the experimenters, subjects, and confederates was needed. For this experiment, the college’s orientation day provided this adequately.


The study used a single factor, three level design where social pressure was the independent variable and GPA score was the dependent variable. The students were randomly assigned into three groups (15 males, 15 females). The groups were formed by selecting three orientation groups at the orientation meeting. These groups were conveniently setup in the fashion needed for the experimenters’ purposes, with 15 males, 15 females, and 3 orientation leaders. Each group used 2 confederates and 1 experimenter as its orientation leaders. Permission to conduct the experiment in this way was granted by the admissions department at the school. The groups were labeled alpha, sigma, and beta.

The alpha group’s orientation leaders conducted their meeting by mentioning only positive remarks and social statements about studying at Brooklyn College. They praised the quality of education, the amount of helpful opportunities, and the social benefits of graduation from the school. This was done to setup an overall sense of positive social pressure in the students’ minds.

The beta group was treated with an opposite overall sense of social pressure about the school. The orientation leaders only stated negative remarks about the school. They downplayed the quality of education saying that the classes were hard and work loaded. The lack of social advancement upon graduation was also emphasized. For a copy of the briefing sheet given to the confederates refer to Appendix A.

The sigma group was the control group. Their orientation leaders conducted the normal q&a session as directed by the school.

After the orientation, the students’ performance throughout the semester was monitored. If a student was observed to be slipping in their studies as a result of the experiment, they would be informed of their participation and immediately desensitized. Fortunately their were no such incidents. At the end of the semester, all of the GPA’s were recorded. The participants were then informed of their participation and desensitized of any latent effects.


The data were analyzed using a one-way analysis of variance, with the alpha level set at .01. A summary of the statistical data can be found in Appendix B and Figure 1. After analysis, a significant F value of 384.09 was found (critical value.01: 5.39) with a probability of .000. A Tukey’s post hoc comparison of means showed a significant difference between alpha and sigma (HSD=+10.28) and between alpha and beta (HSD=+15.71). There was not a significant result found between the beta and sigma groups (HSD=-5.43).


The results of the present experiment confirmed the experimenters’ predictions that social pressure has an effect on academic performance. Further analysis shows that positive social pressure has a significant effect on academic performance. Subjects who were in the positive pressure group show improvement in their performance when compared to the control. It is also shown that the negative social pressure does not seem to have a significant effect when compared to the control. Consequentially, there was a positive significant difference between the alpha and beta groups since the beta average was lower than the control.

The fact that negative social pressure does not affect academic performance contradicts with the results of the experiment by Schlenker, Philips, Bioneicki & Schlenker, (1995). This experiment proposed the idea that social pressure can produce social anxiety, which decreases performance. There were a number of other experiments (Kanter, 1977, Allen & Bragg, 1968) that also proposed that negative social pressure decreases performance, and contradicted with the results obtained in the current experiment. As it was found by Rosabeth Kanter, (1977), the three characteristics of social pressure have a negative impact on the minority group members’ performance in school. In their experiment, Allen and Bragg, (1968) showed how social pressure affects learning acquisition. It was discovered that “veridical feedback” activated negative social pressure and resulted in worse performance than “non – veridical” feedback, which activated positive social pressure, thereby increasing performance.

Positive social pressure had strong effect on academic performance by increasing it significantly. It means that giving people positive impressions such as telling them about the advantages of studying in college and their future perspectives was a better technique in order to make them perform better than frightening them with negative outcomes of their future performance. This idea was supported by Brickman et al, (1976), who stated that “sometimes telling a person that he has done well, that is giving him success feedback, leads to better subsequent task performance than telling him that he has done poorly, that is, giving him failure feedback”.

As it was found in the experiment, positive social pressure does influence academic performance of entering freshmen. This means that in some situations, it is not such a bad thing, as it was proposed before by series of other experiments that found mostly negative aspects of social pressure. Indeed, it increases students’ performance and can be used as a positive stimulus in order to motivate students to perform better. Moderate social pressure, such as encouraging students, giving them positive feedback on their work and so on, doesn’t do any harm to them; on the contrary it helps them to enhance their performance.

It was surprising that negative social pressure did not have any effect on performance. One of the possible reasons for it could be that the negative pressure group was not large enough, thus being able to represent population. It is also possible that because the experimenters were worried about the ethical consequences of the experiment, so they did not implement enough

negative pressure to get significant results.


Allen, V.L., Bragg, B.W. (1968). Effect of Social Pressure on Concept Identification. Journal of Educational Psychology, 59(4), 302-08.

Asali, A., Khamaysi, N., et al (1995). Ritual Female Genital Surgery Among Bedouins in Israel. Archives of Sexual Behavior,24(5), 571-75.

Brickman, P., Linsemmier, J.A.W., McCareins, A.G. (1976). Performance Enhancement by Relevant Success and Irrelevant Failure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 33(2), 149-60.

Frith, C. (1997). “Motivation to Learn”. University of Saskatchewan.

Kanter, R.M. (1977). Some effects of proposition of group life: Skewed sex ratio and responses to token women. American Journal of Sociology, 82, 965-70.

Luchins, A.S., Luchins, E.H. Conformity: Task vs. Social Requirements. The Journal of Social Psychology, 71, 95-105.

Robert, M. (1983). Observational learning of conservation: Its independence from social influence. The British Journal of Psychology, 74, 1-10.

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Spangler, E., Gordon, M.A., Pipkin, P.M. (1978). Token women: An empirical test of Kanter’s hypothesis. American Journal of Sociology, 84(1), 160-69.

Tucker-Ladd, C.E. (1997). Psychological Self Help. Mental Health Net.