Financial peer pressure: An in-class activity

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In my online class weekly discussions, I ask students to share good news—no matter how small—from the previous week. In the last couple of years, I have had students reporting being excited because their credit score increased. At least some people—number unknown—have gamified their credit. They are watching in almost real time what happens when they pay down or pay off their credit cards. It’s a great example of operant conditioning. Engaging in this behavior increases my credit score, therefore I’m going to engage in this behavior more often.

It was with that in mind that I read this Lifehacker article: “Here’s How to Stop Succumbing to Financial Peer Pressure” (Dietz, 2022). For my students who are trying to reduce their spending because of the impact that spending has on their credit scores, have they become consciously aware of the social pressure to spend money that they don’t necessarily have? I don’t have the answer to that question, but given that it’s a topic explored by Lifehacker, it must be in the consciousness of some. In any case, I propose that we bring this topic to the forefront of the minds of all of our students in our coverage of conformity.

After covering conformity, share this scenario with your students.

At college, Logan has developed some new friendships. Logan enjoys the company of their new friends, but they have noticed that their new friends prefer to eat at expensive restaurants, to sit in the expensive seats at concerts, plays, and sporting events, and to shop for clothes in pricey stores. Logan doesn’t know if they have a lot of money or if they are poor at managing the money they have. In any case, Logan doesn’t have that kind of money and doesn’t want to damage their credit score by going deeply into debt before they’re even done with their first college term.

After reviewing the factors that tend to increase conformity, ask your students to envision how each of those factors could be present in Logan’s relationship with their money-spending friends. For example, conformity tends to increase when the group is unanimous about a decision. Logan would be more likely to go along with the group if one person suggests having dinner at the most expensive restaurant in town and everyone else in the group agreed. After students have had a couple minutes to think about these on their own, ask them to share their examples in small groups. After discussion has died down, invite groups to share their thoughts with the class.

Now let’s take it one step further. For each factor, ask students to consider what Logan can do to counter it. For example, if Logan knows that there will be a discussion about where to have dinner, Logan can approach one person from the group in advance, explain their financial situation, and ask if this friend would be supportive when Logan suggests a less expensive dinner option. Knowing that an ally will also dissent from the group rendering the group no longer unanimous may help Logan suggest a different restaurant—or, better yet, a potluck. Again, give students an opportunity to share their ideas in small groups, and then invite groups to share their best ideas with the class.

This activity not only gives students practice applying the factors that influence conformity, it also gives students a chance to see how they may be inadvertently pressuring their friends and how they themselves may be being pressured—and give them some strategies for countering the pressure. Given that money is the context for this activity, we may even help our students raise their credit scores.



Dietz, M. (2022, October 25). Here’s how to stop succumbing to financial peer pressure. Lifehacker.


About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.