Teenage virginity and social psychology

How about a little break from torture with a quick look at the social psychology of teenage virginity.  From Balkinization:

why I’m concerned (and what it means for public service messages with
regard not only to abstinence but a host of other issues).

In my last post, I argued that (the truly excellent show) Friday Night Lights
might unwittingly be exacerbating the mistaken idea that the vast
majority of high-schoolers have sex. I worried that this discrepancy
between what adolescents believe (virgins are rare) and the truth
(high-school virgins are the norm) is a dangerous combination…

Robert Cialdini has shown time and again that people like to conform their behavior to that of others. His new book, Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, is chock full of examples. Want to get hotel guests to forego daily towel cleaning? Include a message telling them that most other guests reuse their towels. Want them to recycle even more? Tell them that most people using their very room recycle…

I’m not calling for the writers of Friday Night Lights
to change the story arc. But Cialdini’s simple idea is that public
service messages would do well to implicitly tell high-schoolers: “Be
like most of your peers — don’t have sex while you’re in high school.”…

Indeed, Cialdini has me thinking that all those “Above the Influence” commercials are seriously off base:

These commercials
implicitly suggest that most of your peers are going to be using drugs
and that you have to gird yourself to be above their influence. They
are too close to the signs in the Petrified Forest. Instead of saying
“Don’t do what most kids your age do,” they might say “Do what most
kids your age do: just say no.”

 You should read the whole post for some great examples of Cialdini's experiments.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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