A friend of mine from another university recently gave me an article that his behavioral economics teacher assigned to the class. When I opened up the ﬁle, my attention was drawn directly to the title, which introduced a term I had never really heard before: “Peer Effects and Alcohol Use among College Students.”
Peer effects? What ever happened to the good old, overly used, “peer pressure”? I immediately began to try and sort out the difference between the two. “Pressure” usually implies a more obvious, direct interaction between the subjugator and the subjugated, while having an “effect” on another person usually involves a more indirect, even subconscious, interaction. When I ﬁnished the reading, published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, I was surprised by the results of the study; the people who surround you truly have an effect on you, whether or not they pressure or bully you.
The study was conducted by two Harvard University professors, and the data was drawn from a large Midwestern state university where the high school grade point average of the entering students averaged a 3.56.
The samples were drawn to portray the effect of a student’s ﬁrst college roommate on said student’s behavior. The research focused on the relationship between a roommate’s drinking behavior and a student’s GPA; in simple terms, the study analyzed how the drinking habits of your roommate can affect your grades throughout your college years.
So we know that the people you surround yourself with during your ﬁrst year in college will impact your behavior, but how exactly do you change? Data was ﬁrst drawn from the participants’ high school, standardized tests and university grades and later examined to locate the variations throughout the ﬁrst and second years of college. Yes, it’s all in the GPA, and sadly, the outcome suggested that the results of having a “bad influence” for a roommate are distinctly negative.
The effects of having a roommate who drank alcohol before (and during) college were noticeably apparent, especially among males. While the results also found that a roommate’s socioeconomic background and academic records had no effect on the student, the effects of having a roommate who frequently drank in high school revealed an average decline of 0.28 points in the student’s GPA. Although the results found this pattern of decline present in both genders, the male group displayed a higher susceptibility to this phenomenon.
The results are alarming, especially knowing that I attend an institution where rooming assignments can be, in theory, determined from a quick survey that students are required to turn in with their housing applications if they don’t request a specific roommate. This study simply expresses a reality, something that can very easily apply to our own students. So what’s there to be done if we know our freshmen will inevitably be affected one way or another by their assigned “roomie”? Nothing more than simply knowing the facts and, hence, being conscious of how others are influencing you.
As published in the Aug. 26, 2013 issue of the Pepperdine Graphic.
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