Author Promotes Peer Pressure as the Global 'Social Cure'

At a University of Central Florida public forum Thursday, nearly 100 audience members learned how one “social cure” has played a part in creating activists in former Yugoslavia, lowering smoking rates in Florida and helping to cure tuberculosis across continents. The cure? Peer pressure.

The presentation, organized by the UCF Global Perspectives Office, featured Tina Rosenberg, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World. Despite its sometimes negative connotation, Rosenberg said, peer pressure has the potential to solve many problems once considered unsolvable.

Citing findings from the Milgram Experiment — which measured the willingness of subjects to follow an authority figure’s instructions to do something contrary to their own conscience — Rosenberg suggested that the greatest motivator of defiance to authority comes from one’s peers. She used several examples from around the world to illustrate how strength in numbers can transform a society.

Rosenberg gave as one example Florida’s teen smoking rates in the 1990s. Because teens view smoking as “a delivery system of rebellion,” researchers were able to promote not smoking as rebellion by publicizing the manipulation behind smoking advertisements, Rosenberg said. The result was cutting teen smoking rates by half, she said, the lowest rate in over a decade.

She also told the story of Otpur, a student-led and organized resistance group in the former Yugoslavia during the time of then-President Slobodan Milošević. Through non-violent protests, this group discovered how “to get people out of their houses and into the streets,” she asserted. Otpur empowered them by creating a place to belong. Rosenberg said it was this sense of belonging that led to the success of this resistance group and the eventual fall of Milošević.

The social cure also worked for tuberculosis patients in Ukraine and China. There, when the Directly Observed Treatment Shortcourse -program was implemented to supervise treatment adherence, the cure rates for tuberculosis went from 50 to 94 percent  in China and from 51 to 81 percent  in Ukraine, Rosenberg said.

Through all these examples, Rosenberg showed “the versatility of the social cure” and presented it as the solution to many of the world’s problems. It has the power to turn people into catalysts for change, she said.

“Peer pressure helps fill prisons. Peer pressure helps crowd bankruptcy courts. Peer pressure is a mighty and powerful force,” said Rosenberg. “But the antidote is more peer pressure.”

In addition to the UCF Global Perspectives Office, sponsors and partners of the event included the Lawrence J. Chastang and the Chastang Foundation, the Sibille H. Pritchard Global Peace Fellowship program, the UCF Global Peace and Security Studies Program, the UCF Nicholson School of Communication, UCF LIFE, the UCF Book Festival 2012 in association with the Morgridge International Reading Center, the UCF Political Science Department, the UCF International Services Center and the Global Connections Foundation.