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The waning influence of peer pressure at work

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The waning influence of peer pressure at work

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The whole notion of hero leadership seems to rest upon the charisma and magnetism of the person (usually depicted as male) at the top.  The theory goes that this individual will inspire those around him by his mere presence to great feats of ingenuity and productivity.  Of course, what happens when that leader isn’t casting his personal glow across the workforce is less clear.

A study published recently might help to shed some light on the situation.  It suggests that the social influence of our peers is rather more fleeting than we perhaps like to think.  This marks an interesting contrast to traditional thinking into both social conformity and group behaviour.

“Our findings suggest that exposure to others’ opinions does indeed change our own private opinions — but it doesn’t change them forever.

Just like working memory can hold about 7 items and a drug can be effective for certain amount of time, social influence seems to have a limited time window for effectiveness.” the researchers say.

The study asked people to rate the attractiveness of people.  Before doing so however, they were also given the average rating from a large chunk of ‘fellow participants’.  Each participant was then asked to repeat the experiment after 3 days, 7 days and 3 months in order to see whether the influence of the crowd would eventually wear off.

Interestingly, the first rating was indeed heavily influenced by the ratings from the crowd, and this influence was still present when they returned 3 days later.  By the 7 day period however, the influence had vanished.

This phenomenon is particularly interesting for things such as workplace behaviour.  We can see for instance that people often return from holidays somewhat different to when they departed.  What about working remotely however?  Would that embellish a similar affect upon employees?

It should be said of course, that the degree of social influence exerted in this study was minimal, and it’s quite likely that a higher degree of pressure may have more lasting impact.  What’s more, the group in the study were largely unseen and were not proactively attempting to influence them.

Nevertheless, it does reinforce the importance of using the work environment to influence behaviours, as the environment is a constant in employees lives.  In contrast, the irregular presence of a leader is unlikely to cut the mustard.

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