Personal norms consist of individuals’ attitudes about the appropriateness of behaviour. These norms guide adolescents’ behaviour in countless domains that are fundamental for their social functioning and well-being. Peers are known to have a marked influence on adolescent risk-taking and prosocial behaviour, but little is known about how peers shape personal norms underlying those behaviours. Here we show that adolescents’ personal norms are decisively moulded by the norms of the majority and popular peers in their social network. Our experiment indicates that observing peer norms substantially impacts adolescents’ normative evaluation of risk-taking and prosocial behaviours. The majority norm had a stronger impact than the norm of a single popular peer, and norm adjustments were largest when adolescents observed strong disapproval of risk-taking or strong approval of prosocial behaviour. Our study suggests that learning about peer norms likely promotes adolescents to hold views and values supporting socially desirable behaviour.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank all participants and their parents, and the participating school for the availability and cooperation. We thank the members of the Connected Minds Lab at the University of Amsterdam for helpful comments and discussions. We thank Andrea Gradassi, Sjanne van der Stappen, Yvette Wedeven and Stefanie Barnas for helping with data collection. L.M. is supported by an Amsterdam Brain and Cognition Project Grant 2018. W.v.d.B. is supported by the Jacobs Foundation European Research Council Grant No. (ERC-2018-StG-803338) and the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research Grant No. (NWO-VIDI 016.Vidi.185.068). B.R.B. is supported by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research VENI Grant No. (NWO-VENI-451.017.008).
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