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  Committing crime or just having fun?
Updated 02 March 2004, 16.26
Gang members

Citizenship 11-14/KS3/Levels E&F
Crime and justice

A Newsround extra programme looked at gang culture in the UK, a special section accompanying it will remain on this website. You can still watch the programme online and there are other useful resources.

This activity allows students to evaluate the power of peer pressure and identity and offer advice for dealing with it.

Learning aims

  • Learn about the phenomena

  • Evaluate the possible solutions and generate advice

Coffee beans

Place a large number of beans (or similar) in a bottle and ask students to estimate the number (an ambiguous situation - after Jenness, 1932).

Split the class into three groups.

Group 1: asked to write estimate on a sheet of paper with some large estimates already written down.

Group 2: asked to write their estimate on a sheet of paper with low estimates written down.

Group 3: given no estimates (or a mixed group of estimates.)

Collect in the results and save these for the Plenary (see below).

Read the story:

Ask the class for examples of how behaviour might be influenced by being in a group.

Which of these behaviours could be affected by peer pressure if you were out with a gang of mates?

  • Drinking alcohol

  • Buying clothes

  • Describing the kind of music you like

  • Smoking cannabis

  • The words you use

  • What you say about people outside your gang

  • Your attitude to petty crime

  • Your confidence that you will get away with something.
Main activity

Students can try an experiment in conformity:

1. Have one student leave the room or group.

2. Tell the remaining students the response that they should give.

3. When the student returns, perform the experiment.

You could:

  • Tell a joke that makes no sense and have the majority laugh. For example: "What's the difference between a doctor and a flamingo? Neither of them can play the piano."

  • Display two identical pictures of triangles, labelled A and B. Instruct the group to say the larger triangle is triangle B. Ask the introduced student which triangle is larger.

Extension activity
Students working in small groups design their own experiments to study peer pressure.

For them to be successful their ideas should allow them to test people with ambiguous situations.

Recap on the main teaching points and reveal the results of the bean estimates from the three differing groups.

The results should show each groups estimates varying in line with those given on the sheets.

Is peer pressure always a bad thing?

Teachers' Background

Famous experiments that show peer pressure

Stanley Milgram's obedience experiments

  • 40 males aged 20 to 50 years were studied.

  • They were asked to give someone they couldn't see and had never met increasingly powerful electric shocks whenever they got a memory question wrong.

  • None of the subjects stopped giving shocks right up to an "intense shock" of 300 volts.

  • The person that they were "shocking" was actually an actor - but they didn't know this.

  • Whenever a subject didn't want to give a "shock" the scientist alongside them repeated that the experiment "demanded" that they continue and told them they were not responsible for the consequences.
Other studies

  • In 1955, social psychologist Solomon Asch wanted to investigate what human beings would do when confronted with a group that insists that wrong is right.

    In his experiment, he showed groups of 7 college students a line, and then asked each student to identify which of several other lines matched it in length. Only one student, however, was being tested. The others were in on it with Asch. The stooges all picked the same blatantly wrong answer.

    75% of the people tested conformed at least once and 5% conformed every time.

  • Back in 1932, Arthur Jenness used an unknown number of beans in a bottle. When the number of beans was estimated by people on their own their was quite a wide range of numbers given. However, when groups were asked the range of numbers grew narrower.

For all links and resources click at top right.

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