What is a Peer Group?

Crystal Hall, Yolanda Williams, Jennifer Levitas
  • Author
    Crystal Hall

    Crystal has a bachelor's degree in English, a certification in General Studies, experience as an Educational Services Editor, and has assisted in teaching both middle and high school English.

  • Instructor
    Yolanda Williams

    Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

  • Expert Contributor
    Jennifer Levitas

    Jennifer has a Ph.D. in Psychology. She's taught multiple college-level psychology courses and been published in several academic journals.

This lesson will explain what a peer group is and the influences these groups can have on an individual's life, including both the advantages and disadvantages. Updated: 07/17/2021

Peer Group Definition

A peer is someone who is like someone else, often sharing similar histories, ages, abilities, and characteristics. What is a peer group? A peer group is a group of people with one or more shared interests or characteristics. A person can belong to many peer groups simultaneously, and people of all ages can form peer groups. Cliques and crowds are the two main categories of peer groups. The following are some common examples of peer groups:

  • Coworkers
  • Extracurricular clubs at school (cheerleaders, drama club, chorus, and dance clubs)
  • Sports teams
  • Marathon runners
  • Members of religious groups

Definition

Have you ever played on a sports team? Maybe you took ballet classes as a child or attended a local preschool. If so, you have participated in a peer group. Peer groups are a type of social group that is made up of people who share similar interests, social status, and are in the same age group. This means that a 4-year-old would not be in a peer group with 12-year-olds. Similarly, college professors would not be in the same peer group as their students.

Examples of peer groups include:

  • Sports teams of which we are a part of (i.e. basketball, soccer, football, ballet)
  • School organizations and clubs (i.e. chess club, science club, band, orchestra)
  • Classmates
  • Neighbors who are close in age
  • A group consisting of first-time moms that are close in age

We all belong to several peer groups at the same time. For example, a child may be a member of a soccer team, a popular clique in school, and a member of the band. Each peer group has its own rules, expectations for behavior, and hierarchies. As such, the peer groups that we belong to influence our behaviors and beliefs.

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  • 0:01 Definition
  • 1:15 Influences on Socialization
  • 2:29 Advantages of Peer Groups
  • 3:19 Disadvantages of Peer Groups
  • 3:54 Lesson Summary
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Peer Socialization

Socialization means spending time with other people and learning socially acceptable behavior. The peer group definition includes socialization within its boundaries, and a peer group's influences on its members depend on socialization between peers. During childhood and adolescence, children may be more influenced by their peers than by their parents or caregivers. These connections can affect a child's way of thinking and behaving; while most peer group influences are temporary, some can become permanent, affecting children into adulthood.

Drama Club

A drama club, an example of a peer group, is performing onstage.

Studies on Peer Socialization

Many studies have been conducted on peer socialization and its influence on young people. Several studies have found behavior patterns that tend to present themselves among certain types of peer groups. For example, associating with a peer group among whom negative behaviors are common can result in a higher likelihood that others in the group will be influenced to behave the same way:

  • Deviant or illegal behavior
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Self-injury
  • Aggression
  • Sexual behavior that has the potential to cause harm

Advantages of Peer Groups

Just as joining a peer group can lead to negative influences, there are also advantages to peer groups. Many studies have shown that there are positive effects stemming from socializing with peer groups:

  • Altruism
  • Empathy
  • Cooperation
  • Civic volunteering
  • Achievements at school

Learning

Peer Education Training

Peer education training teaches kids how to relate to their peers.

Children can also learn things from peer groups that they might not learn at home or school. Because some kids might be more comfortable discussing sensitive subjects that may be considered off-limits at home or school, they discuss those topics among their peer groups. For instance, sex, drug and alcohol use, smoking, relationships, menstruation, pregnancy, and crime are possible topics of discussion among peers.

Behaviors are often learned from peer groups, many of them positive and lifelong. Preparation for adulthood, self-confidence, community contributions, and the motivation to achieve academic and professional success can be learned from peer groups. Because each child contributes different skills, attitudes, and behaviors to the group, there are benefits to be gained by its members.

Fostering Independence

Independence is a useful skill that can serve as a lifelong advantage of learned peer group attitudes and behaviors. From other kids who may be more advanced in these areas than some of their peers, children can learn to decrease their dependency on their parents and become self-sufficient. They can teach one another basic life skills such as cooking, cleaning, budgeting, and how to foster a strong work ethic. Many peer group members help each other succeed at life on levels that parents, caregivers, and teachers cannot because children, particularly adolescents, are sometimes more comfortable with their friends than with their family members or teachers.

Forming Friendships and Relationships

Friendships and romantic relationships are often formed in peer groups. While they already have common interests, many peer groups adopt a normative code, meaning that members must conform to the group's way of thinking, dressing, speaking, or behaving, and rejection from the group can be the price for not conforming to the code. Those who remain in the group often pair up with several friends or form romantic relationships, as peer groups help them with self-identity, gender roles, and sexual and gender identifications.

Disadvantages of Peer Groups

To give a peer group meaning, members tend to think and behave alike; ironically, the peer group develops a collective individuality as its members conform to the group's rules of behaviors and attitudes. Loss of personal identity and individuality are disadvantages in some peer groups. The risk for negative or even criminal behavior is another valid concern. Another disadvantage is that many peer groups may not be accepting of a person who wants to belong to the group but maintain independence from the group at the same time, leading to peer pressure and bullying.

Influences on Socialization

Peer groups play an important role in socialization, especially in childhood and adolescence. Peer groups are the only form of socialization that is not under the control of adults. Peer groups provide children with the opportunity to be a part of relationships that are productive and beneficial for all parties involved. They also allow children to create relationships with one another without being under adult control.

Peer groups foster self-exploration. Children begin to make decisions for themselves and participate in activities that allow them to express who they are. Children are also able to experience and work through conflicts with their peers, cooperate with each other, and compete with each other in peer groups.

Influences on Socialization

We do not know if the family or peers play a more important role in the socialization of children and adolescents. Peer group influence is at its highest during adolescence. As children progress into adolescents, they tend to spend less time under adult supervision and more time with their peers. It has been noted that peer groups generally have more influence on interests that are short term, such as fashion trends. The family usually has more influence on long-term interests, such as religion.

Advantages of Peer Groups

There are several advantages to peer groups. For example,

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Video Transcript

Definition

Have you ever played on a sports team? Maybe you took ballet classes as a child or attended a local preschool. If so, you have participated in a peer group. Peer groups are a type of social group that is made up of people who share similar interests, social status, and are in the same age group. This means that a 4-year-old would not be in a peer group with 12-year-olds. Similarly, college professors would not be in the same peer group as their students.

Examples of peer groups include:

  • Sports teams of which we are a part of (i.e. basketball, soccer, football, ballet)
  • School organizations and clubs (i.e. chess club, science club, band, orchestra)
  • Classmates
  • Neighbors who are close in age
  • A group consisting of first-time moms that are close in age

We all belong to several peer groups at the same time. For example, a child may be a member of a soccer team, a popular clique in school, and a member of the band. Each peer group has its own rules, expectations for behavior, and hierarchies. As such, the peer groups that we belong to influence our behaviors and beliefs.

Influences on Socialization

Peer groups play an important role in socialization, especially in childhood and adolescence. Peer groups are the only form of socialization that is not under the control of adults. Peer groups provide children with the opportunity to be a part of relationships that are productive and beneficial for all parties involved. They also allow children to create relationships with one another without being under adult control.

Peer groups foster self-exploration. Children begin to make decisions for themselves and participate in activities that allow them to express who they are. Children are also able to experience and work through conflicts with their peers, cooperate with each other, and compete with each other in peer groups.

Influences on Socialization

We do not know if the family or peers play a more important role in the socialization of children and adolescents. Peer group influence is at its highest during adolescence. As children progress into adolescents, they tend to spend less time under adult supervision and more time with their peers. It has been noted that peer groups generally have more influence on interests that are short term, such as fashion trends. The family usually has more influence on long-term interests, such as religion.

Advantages of Peer Groups

There are several advantages to peer groups. For example,

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Additional Activities

Peer Group - Writing Activities

Prompt 1:

Peer groups consist of social groups with similarities to an individual in terms of age and interests. Think of a peer group to which you belonged in your earlier years. How do you think the group influenced your behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs? For example, a girl may have a peer group in a high-level ballet class. From this group she may learn that everything is a competition, and that she must try her best to get the principle roles in the ballet performance, and hope for the other girls to perform poorly. She may also have learned from this peer group that homosexuality is perfectly acceptable due to its ubiquity in this milieu, and that the body is just a tool in the dance world so there is no point in being physically modest. Write a reflective journal entry about an experience in a peer group you have had, and discuss how your behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs may have been influenced.

Prompt 2:

You read about peer pressure in the lesson. We generally think of peer pressure as being the negative influence of a peer group on an individual, but do you think that peer pressure could lead to positive outcomes as well? In two to three paragraphs, write about three negative outcomes of peer pressure and three positive outcomes of peer pressure. For example, a negative outcome may be the pressure to engage in a physical opposite-sex relationship at an earlier age. A positive outcome could be the pressure to maintain a 4.0 average if one's peer group does so.

Frequently Asked Questions

How is a peer group defined?

A peer group is defined as a group of people who have many things in common, such as interests, social and economic status, backgrounds, and ages. All ages and backgrounds can form peer groups.

What is an example of a peer group?

An example of a peer group would be a sports team because it would consist of people of roughly the same age with common interests. In this case, the shared interest would be athletics, such as football, basketball, or baseball.

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