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Paluck on Peer Pressure and Prejudice (Journal of Experimental Social Psychology)
Abstract: Individuals often conform to the intergroup attitudes and behaviors modeled by their peers in a given situation. To what extent does peer influence on intergroup prejudice 1) diffuse across a social network of peers and 2) affect attitudes and behavior across time? Student leaders (“Peer Trainers”) were trained to confront expressions of intergroup prejudice in five randomly assigned high schools across a period of five months; students recruited to be Peer Trainers in five control schools waited to be trained. Independent surveys of Peer Trainers’ social networks reveal that treatment Peer Trainers were significantly more likely than control Trainers to be nominated by peers as students who confront prejudice. Treatment Peer Trainers’ tolerant behavior spread to close friends and to acquaintances in their social network; their attitudes spread inconsistently, and only to close friends. Studying peer influence within social networks can improve understanding of social influence, prejudice reduction, and social change.