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APSU professor says Encourage Social Distancing by administering a healthy dose of Peer Pressure

Austin Peay State University - APSUClarksville, TN – For the last several weeks, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has encouraged people to avoid groups larger than 10 and to remain at least six feet apart, but some have refused to take the guidelines seriously.

Austin Peay State University professor Dr. Misty Ring-Ramirez. (APSU)
Austin Peay State University professor Dr. Misty Ring-Ramirez. (APSU)

That’s why Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, in an effort to slow the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19), issued an executive order last week, requiring the state’s residents to remain at home, but an Austin Peay State University (APSU) sociology professor said a good dose of peer pressure may help motivate more people to follow these important guidelines.

“Many researchers, including myself, have found that individuals and even organizations are more likely to adopt a new practice when people in their social network also adopt the practice,” Dr. Misty Ring-Ramirez, APSU assistant professor of sociology, said. “This is especially true when people want to emulate someone because they look up to them or feel connected to them in some meaningful way.”

Ring-Ramirez’s research uses social network analysis and other computational methods to study social movements. With the new Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, she said we have more influence over our friends and family than we give ourselves credit for.

“The way I see modeling behaviors using our social networks to be beneficial in this current moment is by people sharing what they are doing to keep themselves and others healthy right now,” Ring-Ramirez said. “On several social media platforms, people have added frames to their profile pictures that say things like ‘stay home, save lives,’ or ‘quaranTEAM,’ to share with their social network on social media that they are following guidelines recommending that people stay home as much as possible.”

She said people also are sharing tips for making social distance as pleasant as possible, such as “learning new skills, dedicating time to hobbies, setting up Zoom happy hours and/or Netflix watch parties.”

This positive peer pressure isn’t limited to social media, Ring-Ramirez said.

“It could be things like turning down an invitation to a party or get-together that you know violates social distancing guidelines (and gently reminding the host why) or checking in with friends, family and neighbors to see if there is anything they need to facilitate social distancing and stay healthy,” she said.

In her neighborhood, residents are trading “coveted goods like toilet paper and baby wipes and just leaving them on each other’s doorsteps,” preventing both the need to go to the store and the desire to hoard supplies.

“In all of these examples, the social pressure we often feel to socialize, to act with bravado is replaced with permission, or even social pressure, to take the current situation seriously and to follow the recommended guidelines,” she said.


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