Predictors and Sequelae of Instability in Adolescent Peer Groups

Antonishak, Jill Marie, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Allen, Joe, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Reppucci, Dick, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Nock, Steve
Wilson, Melvin, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

Extensive research has yielded important information about the contributions of the peer group to adolescent social development; however, relatively few studies have addressed the antecedents and consequences of changes in peer affiliation. Using a longitudinal data design with a diverse sample of 185 adolescents and their peers, the current study examined how instability in the peer group changes over time, how chronic instability relates to adjustment, and the predictors and sequelae of instability and adjustment. It was hypothesized that adolescents' peer groups would become more stable over time as adolescents learn to navigate the social network and find peers who share their values and meet their social needs. Contrary to this hypothesis, there was no change over time in instability for the overall sample. However, there was considerable variation in the pattern of changes in instability. Adolescents' closest group of friends was more stable than the secondary and peripheral peer groups. As hypothesized, adolescents with chronically high instability had greater externalizing behaviors, perceived pressure from peers, and had increased drug and alcohol use compared to adolescents who had relatively stable peer groups. A smaller group of adolescents experienced increasing instability over the course of the study. These adolescents had more conflictual friendships, felt more alienated from peers, and had lower self-worth than the adolescents with stable peer groups over time. Consistent with the hypotheses regarding predictors and sequelae of instability, there was a constellation of social adjustment difficulties linked to instability. Feelings of alienation, social withdrawal, increased relational aggression, positive friendship quality and decreased self-worth served as both antecedents and outcomes of instability. iii Time-dependent interrelationships also revealed that increases in instability predicted increasing externalizing behaviors and relational aggression, but neither variable predicted changes in instability. Results suggested that adolescents with stable peer groups have more supportive friendships, are more socially engaged, and have fewer externalizing behaviors. An inability to maintain stable friendships during adolescence may affect perceptions of relationships and the ability to develop and maintain future supportive friendships.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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