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Under the Influence: Putting Peer Pressure to Work

by Robert H Frank Princeton University Press
Pub Date:
Hbk 312 pages
AU$56.99 NZ$59.12
Product Status: In Stock Now
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From New York Times bestselling author and economics columnist Robert Frank, a revelatory look at the power and potential of social context


As psychologists have long understood, social environments profoundly shape our behavior, sometimes for the better, but often for the worse. Less widely noted is that social influence is a two-way street: Our environments are in large part themselves a product of the choices we make. Society embraces regulations that limit physical harm to others, as when smoking restrictions are defended as protecting bystanders from secondhand smoke. But we have been slower to endorse parallel steps that discourage harmful social environments, as when regulators fail to note that the far greater harm caused when someone becomes a smoker is to make others more likely to smoke.


In Under the Influence, Robert Frank attributes this regulatory asymmetry to the laudable belief that individuals should accept responsibility for their own behavior. Yet that belief, he argues, is fully compatible with public policies that encourage supportive social environments.


Most parents hope, for example, that their children won't grow up to become smokers, bullies, tax cheats, sexual predators, or problem drinkers. But each of these hopes is less likely to be realized whenever such behaviors become more common. Such injuries are hard to measure, Frank acknowledges, but that's no reason for policymakers to ignore them. The good news is that a variety of simple policy measures could foster more supportive social environments without ushering in the dreaded nanny state or demanding painful sacrifices from anyone.



"Economists are learning that human behavior is more than just a series of cost/benefit calculations. Robert Frank has been at the forefront of bringing biology and psychology into the equation, including our sensitivity to how those around us think and act. The human 'herd instinct' has consequences ranging from how we regulate tobacco to how we can avert a climate catastrophe." - Frans de Waal, author of Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves


"Under the Influence describes a neglected goal for social policy: to gently foster the wisdom needed, individually and collectively, to achieve the Good Life. Frank's own wisdom is on view in every paragraph of this book, with its brilliant perspective on - and solution to - the problems of our times." - George Akerlof, Nobel Laureate in Economics


"Smart, delightful, and provocative, Under the Influence is designed to rock your boat - and maybe even sink it. Not to be missed!" - Daniel Gilbert, Harvard University


"Brilliant, fun, and profound. Other people influence us a lot more than we think, which is a big problem but also a terrific opportunity. Robert Frank shows exactly why. Read this book - everyone else is going to!" - Cass R. Sunstein, author of On Freedom
Robert H. Frank is the H. J. Louis Professor of Management and Professor of Economics at Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management. He has been an Economic View columnist for the New York Times for more than a decade. His many books include The Winner-Take-All Society, The Economic Naturalist, and Success and Luck (Princeton). He lives in Ithaca, New York. Twitter @econnaturalist