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As parents, we all brace ourselves for our children’s tween years, when we expect our offspring will start tuning out our parental wisdom in favor of their friends' opinions. But a surprising new study in the journal Child Development reveals that peer pressure can start much earlier than previously thought, including in kids as young as -- gulp!-- four years old.
When researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany studied 96 four-year-old boys and girls, they discovered that the majority could be seriously influenced by their preschool-age peers. In the study, the kids were given seemingly identical books with illustrations of animal families. The left page featured an animal mother, father and child, while the opposite page pictured only one of the three.
Although the kids thought all the books were the same, in reality one out of every four books had a different picture on the right-hand side. When the children were each asked to say out loud the animal picture on the right-hand side, many frequently agreed with the majority opinion even though it was obviously incorrect based on their book.
“Out of 24 children 18 conformed at least once although they knew the majority response to be false,” according to lead researcher Daniel Haun. By contrast, only 8 out of 18 children gave the wrong answer when they were asked to silently point to the correct animal.
The news comes on the heels of information that shows bullying behavior can begin as soon as three years old, so it's key that parents start the conversation early. Click here for smart tips on how you can stop preschool peer pressure and bullying.