How Your Roommate Can Ruin You

Since when do you have any control of how good your time at college is?

Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But, you might not have as much control as you thought you did. Your college roommate plays a significant role in how favorable your experience at a university is. This is due to the concept of reciprocal determinism. Reciprocal determinism is a theory, from the field of psychology, that states that we have mutual influence over one another. This relates to your time at college because you are faced with new influences and more freedom. Although you and your roommate may not be close friends, they are someone you are constantly around. Unfortunately, your roommate can often times influence the choices you make in a negative manner. Through the effects of reciprocal determinism and a desire for friendship, our roommate has a major influence on our decision making, and this is significant, for it dictates the quality of our college experience.

Alcohol can make you forget more than just last weekend; it could make you forget half the material on your psych exam. Unfortunately, this effect can also tamper with your roommate’s GPA. Students who room with partiers have worse grades than those who live with dry roommates. Their GPA drops by 0.12 points for female students and 0.28 points for male students (from College Choice). This relationship may have something to do with the fact that extraverts make the people around them act more extraverted. Going out and drinking is seen as an extraverted trait. I would argue that because of reciprocal determinism, roommates who consume alcohol influence their roommate to act more extraverted and drink more than they normally would. Because of this, they are partying more often and are now spending less time studying than they would have without the influence from their roommate. But, it doesn’t end there, seeing as a roommate can also cause us to gain more or less weight.

When you gain friends, you gain weight. Well, more like when you go to college you gain weight and your friends can influence how much you gain. Female students who lived with a heavier roommate gained 0.5 pounds their freshman year, whereas those living with a thin roommate gained 2.5 pounds (From New York Times). The heavier roommates were usually on a diet and these dieting habits rubbed off on their roommate. Research has shown that eating the way your living mate does is consistent across most roommate pairings; this is reciprocal determinism at play yet again. Aside from reciprocal determinism influencing the habits of those around us, I would also argue that our general desire for friendship is responsible for this effect. The beginning of college is scary and students want to make as many friends as they can, and latch on to them. One of the friends we are looking for is often times our own roommate. In order to become close with our roommates, we may change our diet in an attempt to emulate their own. This all has to do with how we want to present ourselves to our roommate. For example, if we want to give ourselves a fun and carefree image, we might go out with our roommate and eat a ton of junk food. But if we want to give the impression that we are fit and healthy, we might work out and eat right with our roommate. However, your roommate can impact more than just your physical health, they can alter your mental health as well.

Choose your friends wisely, they might just infect you. That is, with their emotions. Studies have shown that when male students live with a depressed roommate, they begin to experience some of the symptoms of depression (Also from New York Times). These findings did not translate to female students. This effect appeared to stem from the male students’ bottled up feelings. Reciprocal determinism is clearly at play here, seeing as men without depression were feeling depressed because of their roommate. Their mood was changed by the presence of another person. However, because this effect did not translate to female students, I would argue that this finding also has something to do with the fact that society expects men to not talk about their feelings. This lack of talking about feelings is what creates bottled up emotions. When these students are constantly exposed to a man who shows his feelings of sadness, they may feel more inclined to do the same.

All in all, we may feel that we are free thinkers who can do exactly as they wish. However, this is not the complete truth because the people we surround ourselves with have a massive impact on our decision making. This is especially true when we are talking about our roommate, because we are constantly around them. These findings definitely make me think more about the kind of people I want to associate myself with because at the end of the day we are a combination of those around us. I would also urge you, the reader, to be conscious of this and pick a roommate who has similar values to yourself, so that your life won’t be radically changed. Due to the effects of reciprocal determinism and the fact that we desire friendship and want to please those around us, our choices and experiences at college are impacted, usually for the worse.

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