It’s cold and flu season, but germs may not be the only thing that you’re catching from your friends these days.
Turns out that life choices can actually be contagious, too.
According to a Brown University-led study, when a close friend or relative gets divorced, it dramatically increases your own chances of splitting from a partner. And other studies have uncovered that unhealthy habits, like indulging in a piece of decadent cake at a restaurant or skipping the gym, are also infectious among friends. So it stands to reason that bad financial habits can be just as contagious, right?
“One theory of learning proposes that people learn to behave in certain ways based on what they observe in others, what they are told and by conditioning and social pressure,” says Dr. Simon Rego, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. “Therefore, it makes sense that an individual's bad money habits could be shaped or influenced by those around him or her.”
And recent research is backing up that theory. A new survey from the American Institute of CPAs and the Ad Council found that 78% of young adults aged 25 to 34 use their friends' financial habits to determine their own. In fact, the majority (nearly two-thirds!) say that they experience pressure to keep up with their peers when it comes to everything from the kind of tech gadgets they carry to where they go out to eat—despite whether they can truly afford it.
While that poll may appear to be an alarming case of keeping up with the Joneses, there’s actually a deeper psychological basis at play. According to a study from Northwestern University, when people have a psychological connection with a decision maker in a group setting, they will often support the decision maker's poor investments ... even to their own financial detriment.
“We know humans are social beings driven to find attachments and connections to others. Research has shown that once a psychological connection forms between two individuals, they are more likely to cooperate and favor each other financially,” Adam Galinsky, lead author of the study, wrote in the report. “The current research suggests that they are also more likely to escalate on each others' failing decisions.”
The bottom line? Even though you may not be a teenager anymore, peer pressure is still very much at work—and it could be damaging your finances. “If a person's friends or role models are big spenders, it seems reasonable to predict that person will be, as well,” says Dr. Rego.
But you don’t have to dump your entire social network to keep your finances in check. “It’s not easy, but with the right techniques, you can learn how to change behaviors and gain control over bad habits that you may have picked up from influential friends,” he says.
Worried that you could succumb to a viral poor money habit? Consider one of these five tips for fending off those contagious tendencies before they infect your finances.
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