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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
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
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:
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
Teen Delinquency (Age 14)
22 Β Total R;R
Step I. Teen Delinquency (13) .26** .07** .07**
Gender (1=M; 2=F) -.02
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**
Gender (1=M; 2=F) -.03
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.