Could social influence be having a positive effect for once?
It’s easy to blame those people around us when we try to rationalise why some take up habits. It’s just easy to say that the behaviour is learned from those around us – social learning theory – who’s behaviour is imitated. I have been one of those people myself; turning to social learning theory to explain why children might learn negative behaviours or even placing part of the blame for violent behaviour on children playing video games.
However, one concept that I touched on when looking at the ‘Children See: Children Do’ video clip, was that we need to be good role models. More support for this has come from research published last month that suggests that quitting smoking can be triggered by those around you quitting themselves.
The urge to smoke is contagious, but quitting apparently is, too. A team of researchers who showed that obesity can spread person-to-person has found a similar pattern with smoking cessation: A smoker is more likely to kick the habit if a spouse, friend, co-worker or sibling did. Christakis, 2008
Christakis’ findings back up previous studies showing that peer influence plays a key role in people’s decision to stop lighting up and provide evidence that the “buddy system” used by smoking cessation, weight loss and alcoholism programs to change addictive behaviour works.
[The researchers] examined the social lives of 12,067 people in the Framingham Heart Study, which has been tracking the health of residents of that Boston suburb from 1971 to 2003. They were able to reconstruct people’s ties to one another since participants had to list contact information for their family, friends, co-workers and neighbours so researchers would not lose track of them over the years. The prevalence of smokers in the Framingham study over the years mirrored national trends.
This could be explained in terms of social comparison (of which I talked about in relation to obesity a few months ago). Now that smokers are being marginalised – being made to stand in the rain at pubs, having to ‘excuse’ themselves from friends to only have to be in the cold with the other smokers – could it be that we’re looking around us and thinking that it’s the time to quit?
However, the researchers are careful and state that it’s hard to tease out whether social influence is mainly responsible for a whole group kicking the habit. Other factors such as public bans on smoking or studies highlighting the harmful effects of smoking may also play a role.
It’s possible that the growing number of people who are quitting smoking may influence or inspire other smokers to quit too. However, if this kind of positive influence or even smoking cessation aids do not work for you, you might need to get help at addiction treatment centers instead.
What do you think? Any recent quitters around? Why did you give up the habit?