New Mechanisms Of Negative Peer Influence

By Jeffery Mitchell,2014-11-25 19:03
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New Mechanisms Of Negative Peer Influence

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    This study examined ways in which normal adolescent peer processes might begin to explain the dramatic increases in delinquency that occur from early to mid-adolescence (even among teenagers who are functioning relatively well). Adolescents (N=148), along with several of their peers have been participating annually in the study beginning at age 13.

Three main sets of findings are reported:

    I. Adolescents who associate with more popular peers at

    age 13, show greater increases in delinquency over the

    following year.

    II. When two peers are observed interacting around one

    peer’s requests for help, the more dominant teen tends to

    be the more deviant teen. If this pattern generalizes, it

    would suggest that even within normal, heterogeneous

    peer groups, there will be a bias toward greater deviance,

    because the deviant teens will be more dominant.

    III. Teens who are most susceptible to peer influence at age

    13 are more likely to increase in deviance over the

    following year.

    We conclude that increasing delinquency rates in early adolescence may be at least partly explained by presence of a broad peer culture supporting delinquency, and that the presence of “dominant deviants” may help drive this culture.


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    The normative increases in delinquency that occur during early- to mid-adolescence are widely recognized but poorly understood [Moffitt, 1993 #2323]. Understanding the peer processes that help account for these increases is central to learning to reduce these normative increases in deviance, thus leading to our focus in this study:

    Central Issue

    What peer processes can help explain the dramatic increase in delinquency rates in early- to mid-adolescence?


    To explain such widespread and sustained increases in delinquency, normal adolescent peer culture seems very likely to be implicated. But, how and why?

Three Primary Questions:

    I. Does Tight Integration into Normal Peer Culture Predict

    Increasing Deviance in Adolescence?

    II. What Processes May Underlie Such an Effect?

    III. Which Adolescents Are Most Susceptible to this Effect?


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    Results & Discussion

I. Association with Popular Peers at Age 13

    Predicts Increasing Rates of Delinquency by

    Age 14:

     Teen Delinquency (Age 14)

    22 Β Total R;R

    Step I. Teen Delinquency (13) .26** .07** .07**

    Step II.

     Gender (1=M; 2=F) -.02

     Age .06

     Family Income .14 .02 .09* Step III. Popularity of Closest Friend .20* .02* .11**

     Teen Delinquency (Age 14)

    22 Β Total R;R

    Step I. Teen Delinquency (13) .27** .07** .07**

    Step II.

     Gender (1=M; 2=F) -.03

     Age .04

     Family Income .13 .02 .09* Step III.

    THPopularity of 4 Closest Friend .24** .04** .13***

β weights are from variable’s entry into models.


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    Why does friend popularity predict increasing delinquency?

    These findings raised the question of whether adolescent interactions with their peers might in some way foster deviance. Others [Dishion, 1996 #2483] have found that delinquent peers tend to reinforce one another’s behaviors, but these findings exist within community samples of adolescents with relatively low base-rates of deviance.

    We proposed that these effects could be explained if, even in heterogeneous groups of largely normal youths, the more deviant youths within the groups tended to dominate the discourse.

    We needed a way to examine discourse processes that:

a. let us observe peers interacting; and

    b. was not simply focused on deviant behavior (because

    we were proposing a more general group process).

For these purposes, we developed a “Supportive Behavior

    Task” and coding system (see details below), which did not focus on delinquency, and we coded the extent to which our target teen was more dominant in the interaction.

    When we examined dyadic interaction processes using this system, we arrived at a robust finding:


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    II. Adolescents who are most dominant of their

    peers are also more likely to be delinquent:

Correlation of Observed Dominance

    In Teen-Peer Discussions &

    Self-reported Delinquency : r = .30***

The effect remains (and becomes slightly

    stronger) when covariates are removed:

Correlation after Partialling

    Age, Gender, Minority Status,

    And Family Income, & Age

    Difference between Peers : r = .33***


    The “dominant deviant” may well be in a position to sway

    larger groups of adolescents toward deviant behavior. But

    who is most likely to be swayed by these teens?

    III. Adolescents who are most easily influenced

    by their peer (again in a non-deviance-

    related task), are most likely to increase in

    delinquency over the following year,

    particularly non-violent delinquency:

    Teen Susceptibility to Peer Influence was assessed via:

     An experimental measure


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     Coded from teens’ reactions to disagreement with a

    friend (details presented below)

     Yielding a measure of how easily the teen changes

    positions when a peer disagrees with him/her.

     Teen Non-violent

    Delinquency (Age 14)

    22 Β Total R;R

    Step I. Teen Delinquency (13) .34*** .07*** .12***

Step II.

     Gender (1=M; 2=F) -.03

     Age .01

     Family Income .09 .02 .13***

    Step III.

    Teen Susceptibility to Peer .18* .04* .16***


β weights are from variable’s entry into models.


     Tight integration into normal adolescent peer culture

    as reflected by association with popular peers

    appears associated with increasing levels of deviant

    behavior in early adolescence.

     In dyadic peer interactions, the more dominant

    adolescent tends to be the more deviant adolescent.


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     Adolescents who are most easily influenced by their

    peers are also most likely to increase in deviant

    behavior over time.


    There is significant evidence that the tendency of deviant adolescents to dominate in discussions with their less deviant friends may help foster a culture in which adolescents perceive. This study suggests several processes that may account for this effect.

    These results suggest that concern about adolescent peer group effects may not just be limited to groups composed primarily of rejected/deviant peers. Even within normal, heterogeneous groupings, deviant adolescents may dominate, and may help shift overall adolescent peer culture in the direction of supporting delinquent activity. This suggests one way by which peer culture may account for the normative increases in delinquency observed from early to mid-adolescence.


     We studied low-level “normative” delinquency, not

    violent or hard core criminal behavior.

     Now need to address fundamental question:

    Why are delinquent adolescents more likely to be

    dominant in peer interactions?

     Lower levels of impulse control/inhibition?

     Implicit peer valuing of deviant behavior and deviant



     Supporting Details - 8a


    We would like to thank the National Institute of Mental Health for funding provided to Joseph Allen, Principal Investigator (Grant # R01 MH 58066) for support for the conduct and write-up of this study.

    The authors can be reached at the Department of Psychology, Box 400400, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4400 or

    Copies of this and related papers are available from our web site:


     Supporting Details - 9a



    N = 148 Adolescents Along with their Parents

    and Best FriendsAssessed Annually,

    Beginning at Age 13

     Equal numbers of Males and Females

     Community-based Sample from a small urban


     31% African American; 69% European


     Highly Socio-economically Diverse (Median

    Family Income= $38,000)


Sociometric Data

Open-ended nomination procedure. Youths and

    their peers were asked to name 10 students with whom they would most like to spend time on a Saturday evening, and 10 with whom they would least like to spend time.

    Sociometric data were obtained regarding:

     Target Teen

     Their Closest Friend


     Supporting Details - 10a

     A representative of their broader social circle

    th Closest Friend) (their 4

    Mean Ratings were standardized within students’ grade in school

     # of “Like”

    Nominations Person Rated s.d.

    Target Teen 0.96 1.36

    Closest Friend 1.31 1.47

    th4 Closest Friend 1.41 1.60

    Friends received more “liked” nominations than target teens, partly because by definition they are persons being selected as popular (at least to our target teens).

Delinquency Assessment

    Total Delinquency was assessed via a slightly modified version of the self-report of delinquency (Elliott, Huizinga, & Menard, 1989), which provides a list of 16-possible types of delinquent acts and captures the frequency with which those acts were committed in the prior 6 months.

    Non-violent delinquency can also be assessed by summing 10-items related to non-violent

    delinquent acts from this measure. We used this


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