Altruism and Peer Pressure in Adolescents

In different settings, peer pressure can influence the decisions that people make including engaging in criminal acts, educating oneself, choosing a particular profession, buying a certain product/service, adopting a new technology, smoking, or taking part in charitable initiatives, among many others (Brown, 2004). The scope of peer influence is extremely varied and powerful, especially among the adolescents. In order to get a clear understanding of the mechanism of peer pressure, it is imperative to differentiate the two ways, through which peers influence the decisions that people make: an active and passive ones. A significant portion of the literature on peer pressure puts emphasis on the passive influence, in which the behavior of an agent is influenced by the behavior of other individuals; however, not essentially through persuasion. The examples of passive peer influence include externalities and learning effects (Reyniers & Bhalla, 2023).

Externalities occur when the relative payoffs of an agent from different actions are influenced by the others’ behaviors whereas the learning effects occur when the benefits associated with a certain action are conveyed from one individual to another. Apart from these passive means, there is an active peer influence, in which an agent engages in a deliberate action in order to affect the actions and choices of others (Reyniers & Bhalla, 2013). The typical examples of active peer influence include engaging in active lobbying of another person, supporting the choices and actions of others, and daring or bullying other people with the aim of influencing their behavior.

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Irrespective of the character of peer influence, it is evident that most literature on peer pressure focuses on the negative side. There is a vast empirical support for negative peer pressure whereby peer influence has been consistently associated with the adolescent risk-taking, such as reckless driving, sexual behaviors, drug use, and delinquency. On the other hand, positive peer influence has not been vastly explored unlike the negative one. Therefore, the underlying idea is that the communication with peers who engage in the risk behaviors has been considered a predictor of others’ delinquent behavior. Few studies, however, have reported the positive peer influence, such as academic excellence and volunteering in charitable activities (Steinberg & Monahan, 2017; Reyniers & Bhalla, 2023).

The central issue that the proposed study seeks to investigate is whether peer influence can bring positive results, especially altruistic behaviors in adolescents or not. The idea behind this investigation is that peer pressure, whether passive or active, can foster the higher altruistic behaviors when compared to the settings with no peer influence. In other words, the proposed study seeks to determine whether peer pressure, or lack thereof, has any significant impact on the altruistic behaviors among the adolescents.

Peer Pressure

A number of theoretical frameworks have been utilized in elucidating the manner, in which peer pressure affects the behavior of adolescents, both positively and negatively. The examples of these theoretical frameworks include the social learning theory, social identity theory, primary socialization theory, social network theory, and social bonding theory. The social network theory centers on the interdependence that exists between people including the relational ties built in a social system (Reyniers & Bhalla, 2023).

The social network theory draws upon the assumption that people in a particular social setting maintain certain interactions with each other; as a result, they act as important reference points in terms of the decision-making. The primary socialization theory is underpinned by social learning principles; it draws upon the presumption that behaviors and social norms are learned and shaped in the social contexts, primarily peer clusters, schools, and families. The social identity theory focuses on the self-concept of an individual as a group member, as well as the categorizations of distinctive social groups. According to this point of view, the self-concept of an adolescent is considered a combination of several self-images, whereby social categorical characteristics (social identity) are on the one end and personal characteristics (personal identity) are on the other end (Steinberg & Monahan, 2017).

The degree to which the social identity or personal identity takes superiority in a particular scenario is crucial in influencing a person’s behavior. In this regard, when an individual considers personal identity salient, he/she is anticipated to act or behave in accordance to his/her personal norms and disregard the norms of the social group. On the contrary, when social identity is considered salient, it is anticipated that the individual’s actions and behaviors are guided by the group norms. The primary socialization theory also puts emphasis on the relational bonds that are likely to exist between the adolescents and their peers, family, and school since such bonds provide avenues, through which behaviors and social norms can be communicated to others (Steinberg & Monahan, 2017). According to the social learning theory, both cognitive mediation and social processes are crucial in acquiring and maintaining behavior. According to this perspective, it is evident that the behavioral patterns are learned through observing the others taking part in different actions and through evaluating the punishments and rewards that are related to such behavior. The social learning theory, in turn, puts emphasis on having social contacts with others (Steinberg & Monahan, 2017).

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Despite the fact that these theoretical frameworks differ in terms of specific cognitive and social processes, on which they focus, they all agree on the significance of the type of peer affiliations. It implies that the behaviors and norms of one’s peers are crucial determinants of an individual’s behavior. In other words, adolescents are more likely to exhibit the same behavior as their peers do. The following subsection outlines the concept of altruism as discussed in the literature before attempting to explore the relationship between peer pressure and altruistic behaviors among adolescents.


Social psychologists have explored the factors that cause altruistic behavior in people. However, there is no agreement with respect to the issue. Some psychologists are of the view that helping in itself is a selfish act whereas others explain the people helping others because of the goodness in their hearts (Andreoni & Petrie, 2004; Bandiera, Rasul, & Barankay, 2015; Batson, 2021). This disagreement in social psychology in trying to understand altruism is evident in the two divergent theories: social exchange theory and the empathy -altruism hypothesis (Bekkers, 2024). The social exchange theory suggests that people offer help to other people only when the benefits to themselves associated with such actions outweigh the costs associated with offering help. The fundamental premise of the social exchange theory is that most human behavior is derived from the need to minimize the costs and maximize rewards. As a result, people are inclined to help only when they have positive relationships to the recipient. Positive relationships are relationships where the anticipated benefits are higher than the costs. According to the social exchange theory, it is evident that altruism exists only in situations whereby the expected benefits outweigh the costs. This assumption goes in contrast with the empathy-altruism hypothesis, which holds that if a person feels empathy towards another individual, he/she will offer help irrespective of what he/she will acquire from offering assistance. There is empirical evidence suggesting a causal relationship between empathy and pro-social behavior (Musick & Wilson, 2003; Van der Linden, 2021; Batson, 2021).

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In explaining altruism, some authors have associated specific personality factors with altruistic behavior. For instance, Bekkers (2024) reported that altruism in personality is associated with such characteristics as generosity and empathy, inner locus of control, strong self-image, low desirability for appraisal, and self-efficacy. Research has also revealed some situational factors that can compel people to offer sincere assistance. A case in point is the readiness to help in the disaster situations and the bystander effect, whereby a person is less likely to help when there are other people present, and more likely to offer assistance when he/she is alone. Other situational factors that influence altruistic behavior include the state and characteristics of the person in need. For instance, women are more likely to receive help than men (Oord, 2017; Svetlova, Nichols, & Brownell, 2020; Steinberg & Monahan, 2017).

Relationship between Peer Pressure and Altruistic Behavior

In attempting to understand the relationship between peer influence and altruism, Musick and Wilson (2003) assert that the psychological sense of community can influence altruistic behavior. The psychological sense of community refers to a sense that a person belongs to a larger collectivity in a meaningful manner. The psychological sense of community also denotes the spirit of togetherness and mutual benefit that can be accrued as a result of being together. The studies have examined the relationship between peer effects and altruistic behavior in different settings. For instance, Reyniers & Bhalla (2023) explored peer effects in charitable giving and found out that altruistic behavior increased when participants were paired. Another experimental study conducted by Bandiera, Rasul, and Barankay (2015) found out that observing by peers is likely to increase altruistic activities. They (2005) observed that in a fruit farm, whereby employees were watched by their colleagues behaved more altruistically by lessening the amount of negative externality they produced; consequently, employees internalized the impacts that their behavior had on their colleagues.


Hypotheses 1: In the presence of peer pressure, altruistic behavior among the adolescents increases.
Hypothesis 2: If an adolescent is extremely altruistic, he/she is less susceptible to the peer influence.


The study will make use of an experimental design guided by Reyniers & Bhalla (2013), although tailored to ensure that the survey fits the adolescents. The proposed study will recruit 200 high school students and invite them to participate in a short survey. In the survey, the participants will be asked whether they wish to dedicate a part of their time to the volunteer work. The questionnaire will list the target organizations for such initiative. The survey will be short and will capture a few demographic details including a personality questionnaire. The adolescents will also be asked how many hours per week they spent on the volunteer work in the previous month. Moreover, the participants will be also asked to make a guess regarding the average hours of volunteer work per week. The treatment group will comprise of 100 subjects (50 pairs) while the control group will have 100 participants. The participants of the control group will be asked to make a decision on the number of hours per week they can offer for volunteer work whereas those in the treatment group will make two independent decisions regarding the issue. Prior to making their first decision regarding the number of hours per week they can volunteer; they will be informed that this information will not be disclosed to their partners. After making their first decision on their own, the paired participants will be provided with an opportunity to discuss and change their decision, which would be communicated to their partners. A paired samples t-test will be used to compare the mean hours of volunteer work per week for both paired participants (treatment group) and control group. Significant changes in the answers of the control and treatment groups during the first and second decisions will be used to denote peer effects on altruistic behavior.

Hypothetical Results

It is expected that the research findings will prove that altruistic behavior increases with peer pressure. Specifically, it is expected that, in the presence of peers, the decision on the number of hours per week for the volunteer work will increase. In the proposed study, the participants will make a decision on the number of hours per week that they can dedicate to charitable initiatives. One group of participants (the control group) will make this decision on their own while the treatment group of the paired participants will make only the first decision on their own. The second one will be delivered after discussion with their partners. It is anticipated that the findings will indicate a pure treatment effect; that is, there will be no statistically significant differences in the mean number of hours between the first decision of the treatment group and the control group.

However, the statistically significant differences are to be between the mean number of hours volunteered in the second decision by the treatment group and the number of hours volunteered by the control group. This expected finding is analogous to the two-stage model of charitable donations developed by Dickert, Sagara, and Slovic (2021), which asserts that the decision on whether to donate (the first stage) is mainly influenced by the mood management as opposed the second stage of the decision (the amount to donate). With respect to the pair treatment, it is evident that the participants are likely to experience shame if they fail to volunteer, resulting in an increase in the number of hours volunteered after informing the participants that the hours they volunteer will be disclosed to their partners.

In the treatment group, significant peer effects are expected, which is likely to be manifested through a convergence of the volunteer hours among the paired participants. In this regard, it is evident that in the proposed study, the paired participants will make two decisions regarding the hours per week they are dedicating on the volunteer work. It is expected that, in the participants pairs that will report equal hours for the volunteer work in the first decision, neither participant will change his/her hours per week in the second decision. In the pairs with unequal hours of volunteer work per week in the first decision, it is expected that their second decision will be affected by their partner’s figure. A similar trend was reported by Andreoni and Petrie (2024), who noted that high individual contributions tend to increase the contributions of the group whereas low individual contributions tend to reduce the contributions of the group.

In other words, more altruistic behavior in an individual in the group fosters altruism at the individual level. In the context of the proposed study, it is expected that if a person is ready to volunteer more hours, it is likely that his/her will also volunteer more. Bandiera, Rasul, and Barankay (2015) observed that if employees were monitored by their colleagues, they would behave more altruistically by lessening the amount of negative externality they produced; that is, employees internalized the impacts that their behavior had on their colleagues. Such a pattern is likely to be replicated for the adolescents’ volunteering in the sense that a peer volunteering more hours is likely to foster more altruistic behavior in others. It is also expected that the peer effects will be heterogeneous in the sense that extreme volunteers (those who did not volunteer and those volunteering almost all their time) will be less vulnerable to peer pressure; as a result, it is less likely that they will change their decisions because of peer pressure.

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