It is a well-known phenomenon that people tend to make stupider decisions in groups. It’s less well-acknowledged that they make especially stupid decisions in peer groups.

Take your average 16 year-old. By themselves, they may be polite, intelligent, brave, considerate, even uncommonly wise.

Put that same 16 year-old in a group of other similar 16 year-olds. Then walk quickly in the other direction. Because these (mostly) polite, intelligent, brave young people are about to do something stupid.

This isn’t just about young people. 30 year-olds make stupid decisions in groups of other 30-year olds. Even senior citizens will act like fools when around other seniors.

The wisdom of a group tends toward the lower end of the wisdom of the participants when the perceived experience level is roughly the same.

In other words:

If you are hanging around people your age only, and just one person hasn’t grown up, you’re gonna have a bad time.

The solution is something our society doesn’t understand. It turns out it’s actually important to surround yourself with people who are older than you. Because when you start to age-mix, different phenomena start to emerge.

First, there’s less negative competition. When people are around age peers, they feel more need to stand out. Age or experience as a differentiator is gone. When they are in age-mixed groups, they can be less self-conscious about their placement in an age peer hierarchy.

Secondly, most people are naturally drawn to people who are older and wiser than themselves. They may actually take up the positive competition of trying to impress the older members within the group, which means behaving at a higher standard than they might set for themselves among peers.

Thirdly, older members within groups tend to model maturity with more authority than a mature 16 year-old can model to other 16 year-olds. They’re more likely to sway hearts and minds to act up to a standard rather than down from one.

So next time you plan a social outing, try to mix it up. Bring people who are younger than you, and certainly bring people who are older than you. Embrace the differences. They’ll make you stronger, and they’ll keep you from making (as many) stupid decisions.

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