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Peer pressure? Not me!

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Peer pressure? Not me!

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March 30, 2010

College students will generally agree, when asked, that peers are a powerful inspiration in buying clothing, but that response applies only to other students. An individual will usually deny such influence on his or her own purchases.

That is the major finding of a survey conducted by Mallory Roman, a UGA senior with a joint major in fashion merchandising and psychology, who recruited her 100-plus participants, UGA students all, through the social networking site Facebook as well as through online undergraduate discussion forums.

When participants were asked to respond to the proposition that they purchase brand-name apparel products solely because they are popular among their peers, only 22.8 percent strongly or somewhat agreed while a notable 66.6 percent strongly or somewhat disagreed.

But when it came to assessing peers, the respondents were more likely to rate them as being influenced by other students to a much greater degree than they rated themselves. For example, regarding a statement that their peers buy brand-name apparel products specifically to "fit in," 74.3 percent agreed with the statement while only 13.7 percent disagreed-a distinct contrast to how they viewed their own decisions.

"The participants readily said that other peers around the campus were conforming to what they saw around them," said Roman, "but felt that they were different and special from everyone else." Further, first-year students were more likely to deny social influence in their apparel-purchasing behavior than any other class.

When participants were asked where they did receive their fashion ideas, the majority said they were primarily influenced by the media. But Roman's design of her survey allowed her to conclude that participants were largely deluding themselves in this regard.

For her study, she chose 14 popular clothing items with strong brand identity that are staples on campus-Ugg boots, Costa Del Mar sunglasses and Ralph Lauren polo shirts, for example. Eight-five percent of the participants said they owned one or more of the objects depicted. Further, they said that they had been influenced after seeing them in national advertisements. But the catch was that none of the items had been heavily advertised in national media in the Athens area-via their peers was the main way the students could have seen the items.

Still, they tended to deny such conformity. "I was surprised with how defensive people got in the comments section" of the survey questionnaire, said Roman. "They probably felt judged by the survey and felt the need to defend themselves." For example, some participants asserted for example: "I owned [particular items] before I came to UGA," or, "Even if they weren't popular, I would still use them."

Roman credits her instructor Katalin Medvedev, assistant professor of textiles, merchandising, and interiors, with the support to conduct an extensive undergraduate research project. It began when Medvedev approached her in class about applying for the College of Family and Consumer Sciences' Undergraduate Research Grant.

The research was presented at the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities (CURO) Symposium in March and is currently being submitted to national journals for publication.