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Peer Influence Among College Students: the Perils and the Potentials


  • Goethals, G.


Students' intellectual, social and personal development is highly influenced by peers during the college years. These changes can be understood in terms of social comparison theory, which outlines the consequences for group dynamics of people's need to evaluate their opinions and abilities. Discussion aimed toward opinion consensus and competition aimed toward improving ability levels promote the development of intellectual capacities and a range of other abilities. Discussion and competition also promote the definition and polarization of values. An expanded account of social comparison processes considers the further group consequences of the need for self-esteem. The distinction between informational and normative social influence underlines the importance of people's standing in groups for their self-concepts and self-esteem. Social identity theory expands these accounts to consider the implications of self-esteem needs for intergroup competition, discrimination and hostility. Leadership within groups is critical in countering the destructive consequences of tendencies toward fragmentation of larger groups into smaller homogeneous groups which think and act in extreme ways and which enact ingroup favoritism and outgroup discrimination.

Suggested Citation

  • Goethals, G., 1999. "Peer Influence Among College Students: the Perils and the Potentials," Williams Project on the Economics of Higher Education DP-51, Department of Economics, Williams College.
  • Handle: RePEc:wil:wilehe:51

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    JEL classification:

    • D80 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - General
    • I20 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - General


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