This entry contains the following:
Allison M. Ryan
Kathryn R. Wentzel, Sandra A. Baker
B. Bradford Brown
Kathryn M. LaFontana
Experiences with peers constitute an important developmental context for children and adolescents (Rubin, Bukowski, & Parker, 2006). Children's experiences with peers occur on several different levels: general interactions with peers, friendships, and in groups. Social competence reflects a child's capacity to engage successfully with peers at different levels. This section will provide an introduction and overview of friendships, peer groups, and socio-metric status, with attention to developmental changes that occur during childhood and adolescence.
Friendship refers to a close, mutual and voluntary relationship. For many decades Harry Stack Sullivan's 1953 theorizing has provided a conceptual framework for the development and functions of friendships. Sullivan described friendships as providing the following functions: (a) offering consensual validation, (b) bolstering feelings of self-worth, (c) providing affection and a context for intimate disclosure, (d) promoting interpersonal sensitivity, and (e) setting the foundation for romantic and parental relationships. Sullivan believed these functions developed during childhood and that true friendships were formed around the age of 9 or 10.
More recently, Thomas Berndt's 2004 study described four types of support that friends provide for each other: informational support, instrumental support, companionship support, and esteem support.
Informational support refers to guidance and advice in personal problems with parents, romantic relationships, teachers or other friends. Instrumental support refers to help on any type of task, such as homework or chores. Companionship support refers to reliance on friends to do things with, such as someone to eat lunch with or go to a dance or sporting event. Esteem support refers to the encouragement friends provide both when life is going well (e.g., congratulating each other) and when life does not go as one hoped (e.g., consoling in the face of failure).
In general as individuals move from childhood to adolescence, they spend more time with their peers and less time with their family. There is less adult supervision when they are with their friends and increasingly they have more friends of the opposite sex (Brown, 2005). In addition, individuals' conceptions of friendships change as they progress through childhood and adolescence.
Friendship conceptions are measured by asking children questions such as “What is a best friend?” For very young children, friendship conceptions are driven by the social activities in which they are engaged. As they age, children become more sophisticated in their notions of friendship. Generally, friendship conceptions progress from concrete to more abstract with age. During childhood and into adolescence, friendships become more stable as well as increasingly characterized as reciprocal and intimate. The development of children's friendship conceptions has been studied by Robert Selman and James Youniss. Selman (1980) emphasized the evolving perspective-taking abilities that underlie the changes in friendship conceptions. You-niss (1980) emphasized the importance of reciprocity in the development of children's friendship conceptions.
The term peer group refers to an individual's small, relatively intimate group of peers who interact on a regular basis (often referred to as a clique). Peer groups consist of individuals who share friendship, hang around and talk to each other as well as do activities together. As children develop into adolescents, they spend an increasing amount of time with their peers compared to their parents or other adults (Csikszentmihalyi & Larson, 1974). The nature of peer groups also changes during adolescence. Typically, in early adolescence peer groups are single-sex but by middle adolescence mixed-sex peer groups are more prevalent. During late adolescence peer groups start to disintegrate as individuals spend more time as part of a romantic couple (see Brown, 2005 for a review).
Research has documented that peer groups exhibit similarity in many characteristics and attributes. The tendency of individuals to affiliate with others who share similar attributes is a social dynamic called homophily. Homophily of peer group beliefs and behaviors has been found across a wide range of outcomes. For example, adolescent peer groups have been found to be more homogeneous than the student body as a whole on reported frequency of smoking, drinking, drug use, and dating (see Rubin and colleagues, 2006, for a review). Homophily of peer groups has also been found among peers along academic characteristics such as GPA, college aspirations, time on homework, and general engagement in schoolwork. Two processes contribute to homophily: socialization and selection. Socialization refers to the tendency for friends to influence similar attributes in each other over time. Selection refers to the tendency for individuals to choose friends with similar attributes.
Socialization (also referred to as peer influence or peer pressure) most likely manifests itself in both direct and indirect ways. For example, social reinforcement may play a role. Beliefs and behaviors that are discouraged or received negatively by the peer group are less likely to be displayed again by an individual. Conversely, beliefs and behaviors that are encouraged or positively received by the peer group are more likely to surface again in the presence of one's peers. However, peer influence is also likely to occur in less direct ways. For example, modeling processes are likely to be involved in peer influence. Observing a friend's commitment to schoolwork or voicing a belief about the meaning of school could introduce an individual to new behaviors and viewpoints. Depending on the consequences, observation of a model can strengthen or weaken the likelihood that the observer will engage in such behavior or adopt such beliefs in the future (Bandura, 1986). Finally, peer influence is also likely to occur through subtle means such as gossip, teasing, and humor. Gossiping about others, for example, is a means of clearly communicating unacceptable behavior without direct confrontation (Eder & Sanford, 1986). Thus, students share experiences and exchange information (in subtle and not so subtle ways) and out of these interactions among peer group members a context emerges regarding norms and values. This peer group context is likely to influence many outcomes, including adolescents' motivation and engagement in school (Kindermann, 1993; Ryan, 2001).
Sociometric status is distinct from friendship or peer group membership and concerns overall peer acceptance (i.e. the experience of being liked or disliked by peers). Research in the field of developmental psychology has a long tradition of using sociometric assessment techniques to assess peer acceptance. Sociometric assessment techniques are used to identify who is liked or disliked. For example, children might be asked to nominate three to five peers who they “really like,” or “like to play with,” or “do not like” or “do not like to play with.” The peer nominations are then used to classify students into different social status categories. Coie, Dodge and Coppotelli (1982) devised five different categories that are widely used by researchers: (a) popular children who receive many positive and few negative nominations, (b) average children who receive an average number of positive and negative nominations, (c) neglected children who receive few positive and negative nominations, (d) rejected children who receive few positive and many negative nominations, and (e) controversial children who receive many positive and many negative nominations.
Much research has examined the characteristics of children classified as popular, average, neglected, rejected, and controversial (see Rubin and colleagues, 2006, for a review). While there are some general trends there is variability within each group. Popular children tend to be sensitive, cooperative, easily join others in social activities, and often take on a leadership role. Neglected children are low in peer interaction of any kind and generally do not call attention to themselves. Rejected children are the most at risk. Researchers have distinguished between rejected children who are aggressive, those who are withdrawn, and those who are aggressive-withdrawn. In the short-term, aggressive, rejected children have conduct problems and antisocial behavior in school. Withdrawn children report feeling lonely, are more depressed, and have low self-image. Aggressive-withdrawn children are the most at risk for all of these problems. In the long-term, rejected children are more at risk for mental health problems, delinquency, low achievement, and dropping out of school. Controversial children have characteristics that are represented in many of the groups.
It is important to note that there are other measures of peer acceptance or social status besides sociometric techniques. For example, researchers have measured popularity in different ways. The sociometric tradition asks children to list who they like and who they dislike in a classroom. Another way is to ask children directly to identify who is popular or ask them to rate their own popularity (referred to as perceived popularity). Different measures highlight different aspects of peer acceptance and social status. Sociometric techniques highlight the likeability of students whereas the measures of perceived popularity highlight social centrality and visibility. Researchers interested in aggression have noted that these different measures can lead to different conclusions about how the peer system operates. For example, sociometric popular children tend not to be aggressive but there is a positive correlation between perceived popularity ratings and aggression (Cillesen & Rose, 2005).
Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Berndt, T. J. (2004). Children's friendships: Shifts over a half century in perspectives on their development and their effects. Merrill Palmer Quarterly, 50, 206–223.
Brown, B. (2005). Adolescent relationships with their peers. In R. M. Lerner and L. Steinberg (Eds.), Handbook of Adolescent Psychology. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Cillesen, A. H. N., & Rose, A. J. (2005). Understanding popularity in the peer system. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14, 102–105.
Coie, J. D., Dodge, K. A., & Coppotelli, H. (1982). Dimensions of types of social status: A cross-age perspective. Developmental Psychology, 18, 557–560.
Eder, D., & Sanford, S. (1986). The development and maintenance of interactional norms among early adolescents. In Sociological studies of child development (Vol. 1, pp. 283–300). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.
Kindermann, T. A. (1993). Natural peer groups as contexts for individual development: The case of children's motivation in school. Developmental Psychology, 29, 970–977.
Rubin, K. H., Bukowski, W. M., & Parker, J. G. (2006). Peer interactions, relationships and groups. In W. Damon, R. M. Lerner, & N. Eisenberg (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 3. Social, emotional, and personality development (6th ed., pp. 571–645). New York: Wiley.
Ryan, A. M. (2001). The peer group as a context for the development of young adolescents' motivation and achievement. Child Development, 72, 1135–1150.
Selman, R. (1980). The growth of interpersonal understanding: Developmental and clinical analyses. New York: Academic Press.
Sullivan, H. S. (1953). The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry. New York: Norton.
Youniss, J. (1980). Parents and peers in social development: A Piaget-Sullivan perspective. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Relationships with peers are of central importance to children throughout childhood and adolescence. Children who enjoy positive relationships with peers experience levels of emotional well-being, beliefs about the self, and values for prosocial forms of behavior and social interaction that are stronger and more adaptive than do children without positive peer relationships. They also tend to be engaged in and even excel at academic tasks more than those who have peer relationship problems (Rubin, Bukowski, & Parker, 2006; Wentzel, 2005).
Researchers who study peer relationships typically focus on one of two peer contexts: children's dyadic friendships and their larger peer groups and crowds (Rubin et al., 2006). The major distinction between friendships and involvement with the broader peer group is that friendships reflect relatively private, egalitarian relationships often formed on the basis of idiosyncratic criteria. In contrast, peer groups are defined by publicly acknowledged and therefore easily identified and predictable characteristics that are valued by the group. Larger peer groups often are comprised of students who have formed close dyadic friendships with each other. However, friendships are enduring aspects of children's peer relationships at all ages, whereas peer groups and crowds emerge primarily in the middle school years, peak at the beginning of high school, and then diminish in prevalence as well as influence by the end of high school (Brown, 1989).
FUNCTIONS, QUALITIES, AND CORRELATES OF FRIENDSHIPS
Friendships have been described most often with respect to their qualities and functions (Newcomb & Bagwell, 1996; Parker & Asher, 1993). They provide a source of companionship and entertainment; help in solving problems, personal validation, and emotional support; and especially during adolescence, offer a foundation for identity development. Research on friendship formation based on interviews and observations of children at school suggests that positive friendships are most likely to be developed and maintained over time when children display personal attributes such as the ability to communicate responsively, exchange information, and establish common ground, and when they can self-disclose, extend and elaborate the activities of others, resolve conflict, and provide emotional support (Gottman, 1983). These characteristics tend to differ as a function of age. Young children describe their friendships in terms of specific overt characteristics such as spending time together or having common interests; older children are more likely to include psychological characteristics such as intimacy, self-disclosure, loyalty, and commitment in describing their friends. Friendships also become more stable as children develop (Rubin et al., 2006).
Researchers also have documented differences in the quality and type of interactions that children have with friends and with non-friends (Newcomb & Bagwell, 1995). In this research, friendships are determined most often on the basis of students' nominations of their best friends at school, which are then matched to determine reciprocity, or best friendships. Characteristics of reciprocated friends are then compared to those of children who do not mutually nominate each other. These studies indicate that when children interact with friends they display significantly greater amounts of social contact such as talking, cooperation, and positive affect, they demonstrate more concern with resolving interpersonal conflicts and are less likely to instigate conflict, and they are more productive and use resources more efficiently when engaged in cognitive-related tasks together than they do with non-friends. Relationships of friends also are characterized as more balanced with respect to mutuality and reciprocity, as having stronger affective bonds, and stronger levels of mutual trust and commitment than those of non-friends. Compared to non-friends, friends also have in common more interests, values, activities, levels of prosocial as well as aggressive behavior, and personality characteristics (Wentzel, 2005). Research on school-based motivation indicates that friends are similar in the degree to which they value academic achievement, set goals for educational accomplishments, and pursue goals to behave in prosocial ways (e.g., Wentzel, Barry, & Caldwell, 2004).
Moreover, researchers have studied the relations of having friends to children's development (Wentzel, 2005). For the most part, simply having one friend as opposed to no friends appears to be related to a range of positive outcomes for students of all ages (e.g., Parker & Asher, 1983). When compared to their peers without friends, children with reciprocated friendships tend to be more sociable, cooperative, self-confident, independent, emotionally supportive, altruistic and prosocial, and less aggressive. Elementary school and middle school students with friends also tend to earn better grades and score higher on standardize tests, and to be more involved and engaged in school-related activities than those who do not have reciprocated friendships. Children without friends are often more lonely, emotionally distressed, and depressed than children with friends.
The supportive function of friendships is demonstrated in research showing that students who make school transitions with friends show overall better adjustment during and after transition periods (e.g., when they enter formal schooling, middle school, and high school) than those who do so without friends (e.g., Ladd & Price, 1987; Wentzel et al., 2004). Students who have established friendships with classmates also are more likely to enjoy a relatively safe school environment and are less likely to be the targets of peer-directed violence and harassment than their counterparts without friends (e.g., Schwartz et al., 2000). This safety net that friends appear to provide each other is critical in that peer-directed violence and harassment is a fairly pervasive problem in U.S. schools and can have an enormous negative impact on students' social and emotional functioning.
Although the importance of friendships in early development should not be understated, it is well documented that friendships play their most pivotal role in development during the adolescent years (Youniss & Smollar, 1989). During this time friendships are believed to provide a unique avenue for identity development; furthermore, during this time the strongest relationship between the experience of positive friendships and the numerous associated positive outcomes are found. In this stage of development, children exhibit increased psychological investment in their peers and dependence on friends for support.
HOW FRIENDSHIPS INFLUENCE DEVELOPMENT
It is likely that significant associations between having friends and other positive competencies partly reflect the fact that students who demonstrate competence in one domain of functioning (i.e., making friends) often do so in other domains. Of interest, however, is the extent to which these significant relations also reflect a process whereby change in competencies occurs as a result of friend influence (Hartup, 1966). For instance, simply having a close friend might have developmental significance for healthy adjustment over time. Individuals also might adopt or develop specific behavioral styles or interests because they are considered to be desirable characteristics of their close friends.
In general, however, there are many unanswered questions concerning how friendships exert their influence on development. Some of these questions concern the timing, stability, and quality of friendships. For example, one unknown concerns whether there are critical periods during which friendships have more powerful effects on certain developmental outcomes. Can a child be friendless in middle school, establish a friendship in high school, and still experience the protective effects friendships are proposed to offer? Some researchers have suggested that the cumulative experience of friendships is important to development rather than any one particular friendship in one place or time (Hartup & Stevens, 1997). Another question concerns the directionality of influence: Do children have high quality friendships because they already possess the necessary skills to make friends, or do they develop positive social skills within the context of their friendships? As of 2007, empirical evidence that addresses these questions is limited. Longitudinal studies that assess the characteristics of both friends at multiple points in time are necessary to determine the nature and magnitude of change in each individual over time. There is also an evident gap in the literature addressing friendships outside the classroom or school. The role of neighborhood friends or friendships within a family network in development and learning are in the early 2000s studied infrequently.
In spite of these limitations, presumably some form of influence from friends is likely to take place. If such influence does occur, however, an important question is why. Explanations of influence often focus on the likelihood that positive emotional attachments to friends promote healthy psychological functioning; feelings of relatedness and belonging that results from having friends are believed to contribute directly to positive feelings of self-worth and self-esteem. In turn, these levels of emotional well-being are believed to contribute to adaptive functioning in social as well as academic domains. Substantial evidence based on children at all ages supports this perspective (Wentzel, 2005).
Some scholars posit an observational learning explanation of influence in which a friend models behavior that is subsequently adopted by a child who observes the behavior (Wentzel et al., 2004). Empirical findings provide support for this position in that children have the opportunity to observe their friends' behavior with greater frequency than non-friends' behavior. In addition, behavior that is learned by observing others is likely to be enacted to the extent that an individual is motivated to do so (Bandura, 1986). Therefore, a child's behavior might become more similar to a friend's behavior because of a change in underlying motivational processes such as goals and self-concept. Research on motivation documents that peers serve as powerful models that influence the development of academic self-efficacy, especially when children observe similar peers who demonstrate successful ways to cope with failure (Schunk, 1987). These modeling effects are especially likely to occur when students are friends, although students who have higher achieving friends tend to have lower levels of self-efficacy than those with lower-achieving friends (Altermatt & Pomerantz, 2005).
Finally, theorists have proposed that positive interactions with peers contribute directly to intellectual development and functioning. For example, Piaget (1965) argued that mutual discussion, perspective taking, and conflict resolution with peers can motivate the accommodation of new and more sophisticated approaches to intellectual problem solving. Research has supported his position in that active discussion, problem solving, and elaborative feedback among peers are associated with advances in a range of cognitive competencies, including problem-solving skills, conceptual understanding, and meta-cognitive reasoning in samples ranging from preschool to high school (Gauvain & Perez, 2007). Of relevance for understanding the influence of friends on cognitive development is research indicating that interactions with friends rather than acquaintances tend to yield more predictable cognitive advances, presumably because friends have well-established interaction patterns and are sensitive to each other's interests and needs. In this regard, working with friends rather than acquaintances tends to result in positive outcomes for girls more than for boys (Newcomb & Bagwell, 1995).
SCHOOL-BASED INFLUENCES ON STUDENTS' FRIENDSHIPS
Of final interest for educators and practitioners is evidence that teachers can have a significant influence on the nature and establishment of students' friendships (e.g., Donohue, Perry, & Weinstein, 2003; Stormshack, Bier-man, Bruschi, Dodge, & Coie, 1999). For example, teachers' perceptions of students' academic aptitude, intelligence, and tendency to misbehave are related to students' choice of friends. Elementary-aged students appear to be aware of the categorizations their teachers make about their classmates and will reject or accept them based on characteristics such as their troublesome-ness or smartness accordingly. Students perceived to be smart are consistently viewed in a more positive light, whereas those ranked as troublemakers tend to be socially rejected. This phenomenon is especially true for girls.
The instructional approach a teacher adopts, and the resulting classroom organization, also has an impact on students' opportunities to make friends (Epstein, 1983). Adolescents with teachers who employ learner-centered practices (e.g. involve students in decision making, emphasize the importance of building positive social relationships) as opposed to teacher-centered practices (e.g. focus on rote learning, evaluation) report having more close friends and obtain a greater number of friendship nominations in general. Middle and high school students in classrooms where frequent interactions with classmates are condoned, that is, where students are encouraged to talk to each other about class assignments, to work in small groups, and to move about while working on activities, also are less likely to be socially isolated or rejected by their classmates, enjoy greater numbers of friends, and experience more diversity and stability in their friendships. The degree to which middle schools and high schools are ethnically diverse, as opposed to having clear majority and minority groupings, also can influence the nature and stability of students' friendships (Urberg, Degirmen-cioglu, Tolson, & Hallidayscher, 1995).
Altermatt, E. R., & Pomerantz, E. M. (2005). The implications of having high-achieving versus low-achieving friends: A longitudinal analysis. Social Development, 14, 61–81.
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Donohue, K., Perry, K., & Weinstein, R. (2003). Teachers' classroom practices and children's rejection by their peers. Applied Developmental Psychology, 24, 91–118.
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Peers constitute one of the most important contexts for child development and socialization. Beyond their function as companions in leisure activities they serve as sources of instrumental and emotional support, help a child formulate values and beliefs, and oversee a child's adherence to behavioral norms of the peer culture and broader society. Much of a child's interactions with peers takes place in peer groups, making it important for others to understand how peer groups are organized, how they operate, and how these factors change from early childhood through adolescence. North American youth are more likely to encounter peers in schools than any other single social context, making schools a major locus of peer group interactions (Brown, 2004). This entry gives an overview of child and adolescent peer groups, paying particular attention to the role that schools play in these groups.
EARLY EXPERIENCES WITH PEER GROUPS
During the toddler and preschool era, young people's interactions with peers tend to be organized and closely supervised by adults, giving young people little opportunity to choose their peer groups (Ladd & Golter, 1988). Moreover, peer groups are often ephemeral, emerging from a specific, structured activity (such as a play group organized by parents) and dissolving when the activity ends. In this context children are expected to master the tasks of group entry and group interaction. According to Putallaz and Gottman (1981), those who can adjust to the group's ongoing interests, rather than disrupting group functioning by trying to impose their own agenda, are more successful entering groups and better prepared to participate in the peer groups that will emerge in school settings.
Once young people enter more stable peer settings, such as a school classroom, they can exercise more choice in their peer associates and their groups become more stable. Nevertheless, Kindermann (1993) notes that in these early school years peer groups feature high turnover in membership from one month to the next. Most groups are formed among youth who have ample opportunity to interact (e.g., live in the same neighborhood or are in the same classroom at school) and share a strong interest in the activity that inspires the group's formation. Once past the preschool years, both girls and boys show a preference for forming groups of same-sex peers, an inclination that Ennett and Bauman (1996) found will continue until middle adolescence.
PEER GROUPS IN MIDDLE CHILDHOOD
As young people move past early childhood and the primary grades of elementary school, peer group interactions typically expand. Young people try to join structured after-school activities or organize informal after-school interactions that include the friends they have in school classrooms. Despite this behavior, peer group membership remains highly volatile. Cairns and his colleagues (1995) found that, over the course of a school year, the core of a group may remain intact while more peripheral members float among groups, but it is unlikely that a group will experience no changes in membership over this time period. One reason for this flux is the rather loose structure of peer groups that characterizes middle childhood. Shrum and Cheek (1987) reported that in any given classroom several sets of students will band together into cliques, but collectively they may constitute little more than half of the students in a class. Other students will seem to have attachments to two or more cliques and often serve as a conduit of information between groups (someone who can facilitate a child's transfer between cliques). Still others may bond together in a close friendship and confine interactions to the dyad, while a small cadre of students can be regarded as isolates without close relationships with any classmates (although they may have strong ties to a friend or clique outside the classroom). Researchers disagree about the percentage of youth who belong to cliques, largely because of differences in the ways that these groups are defined or identified. It seems, however, as if membership in a tight-knit peer group actually diminishes across time, contradicting the stereotype of early adolescents as highly clique oriented (Shrum & Cheek, 1987).
More consensus exists on the average size of peer groups. Cliques usually contain between five and eight members. Ladd (1985) found that boys' groups tend to be larger than those of girls, possibly in order to facilitate boys' more active pursuits (e.g., sports) on the playground. Also, according to Ladd (1985), children who are well liked by classmates belong to larger cliques than peers who are generally disliked.
Cliques bring together children who share common interests and social backgrounds (socioeconomic status or ethnicity). One might also expect clique members to share similar personality dispositions or temperaments, but this is not always so. Whereas many people believe that relatively aggressive youth coalesce into peer groups that are distinct from those of nonaggressive youth, Farmer and colleagues (2002) discovered that aggressive children actually are widely dispersed among cliques. However, cliques do vary in the average level of aggressiveness of group members, and this group average correlates significantly with the level of academic and social adjustment of group members (Farmer et al., 2002). If a student who is relatively aggressive and disliked by peers belongs to a relatively aggressive peer group, the child will have difficulty mastering the social skills necessary to move into a more prosocial peer group and gain a more favorable reputation among classmates.
As is true among older youth or adults, children are inclined to favor members of their peer group over outsiders. They recognize and accentuate group differences in attitudes and behaviors. Toward the end of childhood, however, young people are likely to differentiate highly regarded, core group members from more peripheral and less popular members, especially if these peripheral members do not adhere closely to group norms. A child may even favor peers who are members of so-called out-groups over fellow clique-mates who tend to deviate from the clique's norms, especially if the peers in the out-group are not highly committed to their group's norms (Abrams, Rutland, & Cameron, 2003). Bigler, Brown, and Markell (2001) demonstrated that school adults can exacerbate rivalries and hostilities among peer groups by calling attention to the groups (e.g., allowing children to form their own work groups or teams at recess), even if the adults show no favoritism of one group over another.
EXPANSION OF PEER GROUPS IN ADOLESCENCE
The peer group system grows more complex in early adolescence, especially if young people move from neighborhood-based elementary schools to larger secondary schools that are no longer based on self-contained classrooms. The most significant change is the emergence of a second layer of peer groups, often referred to as crowds. In contrast to cliques, which identify students who routinely interact with each other, crowds differentiate individuals who share a similar reputation or image among peers, whether or not the crowd members routinely interact with one another (Brown, 2004).
Crowds are organized around the most salient features of the peer social system. They also tend to address developmental mandates of adolescence as a life stage (Brown, Mory, & Kinney, 1994). In the dominant mainstream of American culture, young people of this age are expected to become more autonomous from adults, cultivate a sense of identity, and master the skills necessary to participate in heterosocial interactions and relationships that form the normative social patterns of adulthood. Accordingly, peer crowds reflect different prototypic identities or lifestyles, based on individual abilities and interests: jocks, brains, delinquents, partyers, goths, skaters, and so on. Crowds also tend to be arranged in a social hierarchy, according to their status among peers (Brown et al., 1994). Sometimes group status forms the basis for a crowd's name: populars, nerds, rejects. Important cultural elements endemic to a particular school or community may also be reflected in the crowd system, such as when groups emerge that are based on ethnic background, religious orientation, or family economic background. Thus, the crowd with which an adolescent is associated by peers is an indicator of the child's status, public identity, and values or behavior patterns that are most noticeable to peers.
The importance of belonging to a crowd grows through early adolescence, peaks in middle adolescence (about the beginning of high school), then fades (Brown, Eicher, & Petrie, 1986). Nevertheless, Schwendinger and Schwendinger (1989) reported that even in middle adolescence, not all young people are associated definitively with one particular crowd. Some display a “split image,” in which peers associate them with two different crowds, whereas others are not well enough known by peers to place in any crowd. It appears to be more difficult for adolescents to change crowd affiliations than it is to change clique membership.
In addition to their role in identity development, crowds help to regulate social interactions by indicating which peers are acceptable candidates for friendship or dating relationships (Brown et al., 1994). Crowds at either end of the status hierarchy in Eckert's 1989 study of high school youth displayed rivalries or animosities that precluded close relationships between members. These may be manifest in physical confrontations, such as between rival gangs, but they are more likely to be expressed in verbal exchanges or criticisms of the rival group. Research by Cillessen and Mayeux (2004) revealed that members of high status groups are rated by peers as more verbally aggressive than low status crowd members. Their aggressive behaviors often serve to affirm and reinforce their superior status in the peer system. But there is a price to pay for such aggression, in that members of high status crowds are not necessarily well liked by peers.
Although there are strong antipathies or rivalries among certain crowds in a school, there can be close affinities among other combinations of crowds. This fact may explain why, at least in high school, Urberg, Degir-mencioglu, Tolson, and Halliday-Scher (1995) found that friendship groups often contain members of multiple crowds. The inclination to form cliques from within a given crowd appears to be stronger among certain crowds than others, and during early adolescence rather than later years (Kinney, 1993). However, patterns of exclu-siveness in clique formation can be exacerbated in schools or communities that emphasize distinctions among students by virtue of residence, ethnicity, religion, or other demographic markers.
Ethnographers who have studied clique dynamics have focused on early adolescent groups of high-status girls. They have observed a complex structure that involves multiple roles and a hierarchy of authority, often enforced through a pattern of relational aggression that makes the groups appear to undermine members' psychological well-being (Adler & Adler, 1998). It is unlikely that the same structure and group dynamics typify adolescent cliques, especially after the middle school years. Finders (1997), for example, found that within-group relations were much less intense and more supportive in a lower status girls' clique than the highstatus counterpart in the middle school that she studied.
A major function of adolescent cliques is to socialize youth into heterosexual roles and relationships (Connolly, Furman, & Konarski, 2000; Dunphy, 1963). Accordingly, although same-sex groups still dominate the adolescent social landscape, mixed-sex cliques become increasingly common. Youth who are involved in mixed sex groups begin dating and romantic relationships earlier and with more confidence than young people who remain in single-sex cliques (Connolly et al., 2000).
Peer groups are instrumental in promoting prosocial behavior, such as academic achievement, as well as antisocial activities, depending upon the norms of the group. In Ellis and Zarbatany's 2007 study of Canadian youth, group influences toward deviant behavior were significant only among low-status cliques, whereas group influences toward prosocial behavior were strongest in cliques of high-status students. Cliques do not have equal influence on all members. Tarrant, MacKenzie, and Hewitt (2006) found that those who identify strongly with their clique are more subject to its influence than members with more casual ties to the group. Cliques have indirect as well as direct effects on members' behavior and well-being. Lansford and colleagues (2003) reported that a strong and supportive friendship group can moderate the negative impact of poor parenting on young people.
As is the case for childhood cliques, schools can affect the dynamics of adolescent peer groups. Sponsoring ethnically based clubs or organizations helps to legitimize ethnically oriented crowds. Favoring one group of students over another (e.g., spotlighting athletes or giving them special consideration) can boost the cliques or crowds to which that group belongs. Separating students by academic ability or English language fluency creates divisions in the student body that affect the formation of friendship groups.
COALESCENCE OF CROWDS IN LATE ADOLESCENCE
By the final years of high school, most students have begun to solidify their sense of identity, located enduring friendships, and grown more comfortable with heteroso-cial activities. Having thus facilitated adolescent development, peer crowds diminish in importance and influence. In fact, the boundaries between crowds often dissipate, making it difficult to discern a crowd's members and making friendship groups that cut across several crowds more common (Brown et al., 1994). Young people's attention turns away from crowds, back toward their circle of friends. Peer groups function more as support systems than as powerful entities that direct student behavior, which helps to prepare students for the type of peer group experiences they are likely to encounter in adulthood.
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Brown, B. B., Mory, M., & Kinney, D. A. (1994). Casting adolescent crowds in relational perspective: Caricature, channel, and context. In R. Montemayor, G. R. Adams, & T. P. Gullotta (Eds.), Advances in adolescent development: Vol. 6. Personal relationships during adolescence (pp. 123–167). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
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Cillessen, A. H. N., & Mayeux, L. (2004). From censure to reinforcement: Developmental changes in the association between aggression and social status. Child Development, 75, 147–163.
Connolly, J., Furman, W., & Konarski, R. (2000). The role of peers in the emergence of heterosexual romantic relationships in adolescence. Child Development, 71, 1395–1408.
Dunphy, D. C. (1963). The social structure of urban adolescent peer groups. Sociometry, 26, 230–246.
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Kinney, D. (1993). From “nerds” to “normals”: Adolescent identity recovery within a changing social system. Sociology of Education, 66, 21–40.
Ladd, G. W. (1983). Social networks of popular, average, and rejected children in school settings. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 29, 283–307.
Ladd, G. W., & Golter, B. S. (1988). Parents' management of preschoolers' peer relations: Is it related to children's social competence? Developmental Psychology, 24, 109–117.
Lansford, J. E., Criss, M. M., Petit, G. S., Dodge, K. A., & Bates, J. E. (2003). Friendship quality, peer group affiliation, and peer antisocial behavior as moderators of the link between negative parenting and adolescent externalizing behavior. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 13, 161–184.
Putallaz, M., & Gottman, J. M. (1981). An interactional model of children's entry into peer groups. Child Development, 52, 986–994.
Schwendinger, H., & Schwendinger, J.(1985). Adolescent Subcultures and Delinquency. New York: Praeger.
Shrum, W., & Cheek, N. H. (1987). Social structure during the school years: Onset of the degrouping process. American Sociological Review, 52, 218–223.
Tarrant, M., MacKenzie, L., & Hewitt, L.A. (2006). Friendship group identification, multidimensional self-concept, and experience of developmental tasks in adolescence. Journal of Adolescence, 29, 627–640.
Urberg, K. A., Degirmencioglu, S. M., Tolson, J. M., & Halliday-Scher, K. (1995). The structure of adolescent peer networks. Developmental Psychology, 31, 540–547.
Peer pressure is the influence that a group has on an individual. Although in common parlance peer pressure is frequently used to describe a negative influence, peer pressure can be both positive and negative. Young people are more susceptible to peer pressure at certain stages of development, but everyone is influenced by peers to some degree, even adults.
TYPES OF PEER PRESSURE
Peer pressure has been of interest to researchers for decades. In a series of experiments performed in 1955 and 1956, researcher Solomon Asch demonstrated the power of peer pressure to make otherwise intelligent individuals go against the evidence of their own eyes. He showed participants a straight line on a card and asked them to pick out which straight line on another card matched it. The straight lines on the second card were of quite different lengths, and when subjects performed the task alone they chose the correct line more than 99% of the time. However, when confederates of Asch became involved, the situation changed drastically. When every confederate chose the same, incorrect, line, the participant would choose the same, incorrect, line more than 36% of the time (Asch 1955). In general, the more confederates participating and choosing the incorrect line, the stronger this effect was found to be. This clearly demonstrated that, among the college student participants at least, the opinion of the group could exert such a strong influence that it could cause participants to choose against their better judgment. Interestingly, when even one confederate chose the correct line participants were more much more likely to choose the correct line (Asch 1956). This suggests that peer pressure is reduced when the group is not unanimous.
Asch's study was alarming because it showed that the influence of peers on judgment is so strong that it could make even intelligent college students choose the opinion of a group over the evidence of their own eyes. Since his groundbreaking experiments thousands of studies have been done demonstrating the presence of peer pressure on children and adolescents in dozens of different situations and at nearly every age. Much of this research has focused on negative peer pressure, the peer pressure most likely to be of concern to parents and educators.
Peer pressure has the capacity to be an extremely negative influence on a child or adolescent. Many studies have documented that children whose friends engage in negative or antisocial activities, such as smoking or using drugs, are much more likely to engage in such behaviors themselves. Salvy and colleagues' 2007 study even found that overweight girls who ate with a friend who was also overweight consumed more calories on average than overweight girls who ate with friends who were of normal weight. This kind of influence on day-to-day habits, outside even the realm of traditional antisocial activity, demonstrates how prevalent peer influence can be. Ad campaigns such as the “just say no” campaign of the 1980s and early 1990s and the “above the influence” campaign, begun in the mid 2000s, are aimed at encouraging children and adolescents to recognize the influence of peer pressure and to overcome its pressure to engage in antisocial activities.
Although peer pressure is most frequently used in conversation with a negative connotation, not all peer pressure is negative. Peer pressure is a necessary and important part of development. It helps to socialize children, provide a sense of identity, and can encourage positive behaviors. Peer pressure can encourage children and adolescents to strive for excellence in areas such as sports, theater, and science. Peer pressure might make children feel pressured to take an honors class with all of their friends, which would not necessarily be right for every child but would by no means be antisocial. Peer pressure is an important fact of life at all ages; it is even a significant motivator for adults. A 2006 report to the House Science and Technology subcommittee reported peer pressure more effective at making American adults conserve energy than concern for the environment, the desire to save money, or even social responsibility. Given that peer pressure exists at all ages, it may be more effective to help children and adolescents identify negative peer pressure than to try to eliminate peer pressure.
SUSCEPTIBILITY TO PEER PRESSURE
Susceptibility to peer pressure varies with age and specific personal traits. In general, the role of peer pressure increases with age into adolescence. When children are very young, parents and other caregivers tend to choose play groups and babysitting situations. Parents limit the amount of time they allow children they believe to be bad influences to have contact with their children. Very young children also tend to spend less time in the company of other children and more time with parents or other adult figures. Therefore, the presence of peer pressure is somewhat limited. As children enter school full time and begin to spend more of the day playing with peers outside the direct supervision of adults the potential for peer pressure increases.
Research is somewhat divergent about what age group is most susceptible to peer pressure. Some research indicates that the influence of peers steadily increases through middle school and peaks during the later years of high school. Recent research has suggested that this may not be the case. A 2007 study by Steinberg and Monahan found that resistance to the influence of peer pressure actually increases fairly linearly between ages 14 and 18, and does not increase significantly after that. They found that among the participants studied, ranging in age from 10 to 30, resistance to peer influence did not increase significantly from ages 10 to 14 or after age 18 (Steinberg, 2007).
In addition to changing with age, susceptibility to peer pressure also varies by individual. Children who have low self-confidence and a low sense of agency are more likely to be influenced by their peers. Children who are somewhat ostracized form the general group of peers may gravitate towards children who have also been ostracized, who may be more likely to engage in antisocial behavior. Children who are pushed out of the group may feel more pressure to conform in an attempt to be accepted by a group, even if the group is not engaging in prosocial activities.
FRIENDS VERSUS PEERS
Peer influence can come from many areas. It is not often found in the guise of one adolescent telling another adolescent directly, “Hey, everybody's doing it.” It is usually more subtle but in many ways more insidious than that. Peer pressure most often comes from a peer group larger than the set of friends that the child or adolescent regularly interacts with. In this way peer pressure can be exerted indirectly, such as when everyone in school wears a certain type of sneakers or carries a certain brand of backpack. Although the influence is extremely dispersed, and it is not likely anyone will directly tell the children they need to buy those shoes or that backpack. the influence is none the less extremely strong.
Friendship group refers to the group of friends with which children or adolescents spend most of their time; the group to which they most closely relates. Friendship choice is often influenced by habits and interests the child already has. For example, an adolescent who smokes is more likely to be friends with a group of adolescents who also smoke than an adolescent who does not. Although already occurring traits can heavily influence friendship group choice, once the group has formed the members exert increased pressure on one another to conform.
Friendship groups are more likely than peer groups to exert direct, spoken pressure on a child or adolescent. The pressure to conform to the friendship group is also greater because fear of losing the primary friendship group can be severe. The friendship group can also help the child or adolescent resist pressure by the larger peer group to engage in antisocial activities. As was shown in the Asch experiment, even one other person standing against the group can provide enough incentive for individuals to go with their beliefs instead of with the group.
Asch, S. E. (1955). Opinions and social pressure. Scientific American, 193, 31–35.
Asch, S. E. (1956). Studies of independence and conformity: A minority of one against unanimous majority. Psychological Monographs: General and Applied, 70, 1–69.
Cotterell, J. (2007). Social networks in youth and adolescence. New York: Routledge.
Hoffman, B., Monge, P., Chou, C., & Valente, T. (2007). Perceived peer influence and peer selection on adolescent smoking. Addictive Behaviors, 38(2), 1546–1555.
Perkins, H.W. (Ed.). (2003). The social norms approach to prevent school and college age substance abuse: A handbook for educators, counselors, and clinicians. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Salvy, S., Romero, N., Pauch, R., & Epstein, L. H. (2007). Peer influence on pre-adolescent girls' snack intake: effect of weight status. Appetite, 49(1), 177–183.
Steinberg, L., & Monahan, K. (2007). Age difference in resistance to peer influence. Developmental Psychology, 43(6), 1531–1544.
Sociometry is defined as the quantitative measurement of social relationships. Jacob Moreno (1889–1974) is considered the founder of sociometric analysis, with his 1934 book Who Shall Survive? Sociometry, as Moreno and others since have envisioned it, has two major objectives. The first is to describe the structure of the peer group as a whole, for example, by creating sociograms or visual diagrams of peer group structure. The second objective is to assess the status of individuals within the group. Sociologists have generally been more interested in group structure, while social and developmental psychologists have tended to focus more on the sociometric status of individuals, although there is considerable overlap between the sociological and psychological research on this topic. Bukowski and Cillessen provide an excellent review of the history of sociometry that explains its development during the twentieth century.
A vast number of empirical studies have investigated sociometric status among schoolchildren in the classroom setting. In the U.S. educational system, children spend an enormous amount of time with same-age peers in the classroom, so it is critically important to understand how each child fits within that group and to understand what are the consequences, both short-term and long-term, of having a particular status within the group. Furthermore, particularly in younger grades, the classroom setting provides researchers with a readily available, relatively self-contained peer group, which enables them to conduct sophisticated quantitative analyses of peer status and obtain very rich information about how the peer group functions and its effects on individual children.
MEASURING SOCIOMETRIC STATUS
The most common method of measuring sociometric status is to collect confidential nominations from the members of a peer group regarding who each person likes and who each person dislikes within the group. Occasionally, teachers, parents, or trained behavioral observers provide the data, but peer nominations are usually considered the best form of measurement. Peers understand the group from the inside, rather than viewing it from the outside, as others do. Also, the measurements are more direct with peers (“Who do you like?”) than with teachers or observers (“Who is well-liked by peers?”). Furthermore, while there will be some degree of bias no matter what the source of information is (parents, teachers, observers, or peers), one can obtain more reliable information by surveying a large group of peers than one would get from a single individual such as a teacher or an observer. Often researchers use multiple sources for collecting the data, and they can learn a great deal about peer status by examining the similarities and differences among these various sources of information.
Sociometric status is usually measured by counting the number of liked votes and the number of disliked votes that each person receives from peers, a method that was introduced into developmental psychology by Coie, Dodge, and Coppotelli in the early 1980s. There is some controversy from an ethical perspective about whether to include the negative (disliked) nominations when collecting data or simply collect the positive (liked) nominations only. Some teachers, parents, and/or school administrators believe that asking about disliking will lead some children to be ostracized when they would not have been so otherwise. However, others argue that these measures are simply assessing relationships and attitudes that already exist. More importantly, the problem with not using negative nominations is that there is a substantial difference between failing to name someone as liked and actually naming the person as disliked. Only by using both types of nominations can researchers categorize children into the five different categories of socio-metric status (described below) upon which most of the research in this field is based.
The five-category model proposed by Coie and colleagues involves counting the number of votes received by each student for liking and disliking and standardizing those votes within the classroom. In some cases, children are allowed to make an unlimited number of nominations, while in other cases, they are restricted to a specific number of nominations, (three, for example). Also, sometimes the nominations are only for same-sex peers (especially in younger grades) and sometimes they are across both genders. The first two categories that can be derived from these nominations differ along a dimension of social preference. The first category is sociometrically popular, which includes children who receive a large number of liked nominations and very few if any disliked nominations. The second category, sociometrically rejected, includes children who receive a large number of disliked nominations and very few if any liked nominations. The popular children are (obviously) more preferred than the rejected children. The next two categories differ along a second dimension, called social impact. These categories are socio-metrically controversial, which includes children who receive many liked nominations and many disliked nominations, and sociometrically neglected, which includes children who receive very few of either type of nomination. The controversial children, who receive high numbers of both types of nominations, have more impact or prominence in the peer group than do neglected children, who receive low numbers of liked and disliked nominations. Finally, the last category is sociometrically average, which includes everyone who is not particularly high or low on either type of nomination.
BEHAVIORAL AND COGNITIVE CHARACTERISTICS OF STATUS GROUPS
Much research on sociometric status has focused on the rejected category (see Asher and Coie for a comprehensive review of peer rejection). The reason for this focus is that rejected children are most at risk for current and future behavioral problems. However, researchers have examined the behavioral characteristics and cognitive thought patterns of children in all these categories, as well as the antecedents and consequences of membership in a particular status group. What follows is a brief review of this research.
Researchers have determined behavioral profiles for the various status categories, and this research is nicely summarized in a review article by Newcomb, Bukowski, and Pattee. Sociometrically popular children tend to be helpful, cooperative, sociable, and demonstrate leadership within the peer group. Sociometrically rejected children tend to fall into two subgroups: rejected-aggressive and rejected-withdrawn. Rejected-aggressive children are physically aggressive and bullying toward peers, while rejected-withdrawn children are often the victims of aggression by other children. Both groups display maladaptive behavior that makes it difficult for these individuals to get along with other children. Controversial children share characteristics with both popular and rejected children. They are very active in the peer group and demonstrate leadership and cooperativeness, but they also tend to display aggression toward peers and do not abide by the rules. The neglected category is not stable over time; in other words, if a child is categorized as neglected during one measurement session, he or she is likely not to have that same status if measurements are taken several months or a year later. Although the neglected category may seem to be similar to the rejected-withdrawn group, there are important differences between the two. Rejected-withdrawn children are actively ostracized by the peer group, while neglected children are essentially ignored and not treated particularly well or particularly poorly by peers.
In addition to behavioral differences, children in the various status groups also differ in their patterns of thinking. Rejected-aggressive children tend to make hostile attributions regarding other children's behavior, whereas rejected-withdrawn children tend to make self-defeating attributions that interfere with their ability to make friends. Also, rejected children are less accurate overall than are other status groups at interpreting peers' behavior. Popular and average children have higher levels of social competence and are able to achieve their goals more readily in social situations than are rejected children.
ANTECEDENTS AND CONSEQUENCES OF SOCIOMETRIC STATUS
As one might imagine, children in these different status categories have different prognoses for future success. Longitudinal studies that follow children as they grow older (such as the study by Hymel, Rubin, Rowden, and LeMare) and retrospective studies that look at the childhood experiences of adults have both shown that early peer rejection is associated with later mental health problems, criminal behavior, and early school withdrawal. Rejected-aggressive children are more likely to engage in impulsive and delinquent behavior, while rejected-withdrawn children are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. Rejected children as a whole display maladaptive behavior as early as infancy, demonstrating more difficult temperaments and more insecure attachment to parents than do those from other status groups.
It is very important to note that most of the research on antecedents and consequences of sociometric status has been correlational rather than causal in nature. In other words, researchers have not established that temperament and attachment problems or faulty thinking patterns cause sociometric rejection, nor have they established that being sociometrically rejected in school causes later problems in life. There might be other variables as yet uninvestigated which could be responsible for the child's status as well as his or her past and future problems. If there is not a causal relationship between status and these other variables, it means that helping children to be more accepted by their peers will not necessarily improve their outcomes later in life.
Furthermore, it is important to realize that the link between sociometric status and present and future problems may be moderated or weakened by other variables. For example, research on friendships (such as the study by Parker and Asher) shows that friendship and peer status are two independent constructs, and children may have close dyadic friendships regardless of their status in the overall peer group. Having such friendships can make adjustment much easier for rejected children, and not having such friendships can attenuate the positive effects of being sociometrically popular.
GENDER AND DEVELOPMENTAL DIFFERENCES
Sociometric status differs somewhat depending on gender and stage of development. Rejected boys are distinguished from popular boys primarily based on aggression levels, whereas popular and rejected girls differ primarily in the degree to which they cooperate with others. Boys tend to display more physical aggression, while girls display indirect or relational aggression (spreading rumors or excluding or ostracizing peers). From a developmental perspective, a number of researchers have examined the stability of socio-metric status over time and have found that status remains fairly stable over a child's time in school and often carries over to a new school environment. More interesting from a developmental point of view is the way in which children's and adolescents' stereotypes about popularity change as they grow older. If status is measured by asking about peers' reputation (“Who is popular in the peer group?” or “Who is unpopular?”), the results are very different from the findings on sociometric status, especially for older children and adolescents. Peers whom children name as popular may have more in common with sociometrically controversial children than with sociometrically popular children. A cross-sectional study by LaFontana and Cillessen shows that peers with a popular reputation are more dominant, demonstrate both prosocial and antisocial behaviors, and possess more resources such as money, athletic ability, and physical attractiveness, than do sociometrically popular peers. The differences between sociometrically popular and perceived popular children increase with age, peakinginmiddle school and early adolescence. Girls reach this peak somewhat earlier than do boys.
CAVEATS AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS
Despite the massive amount of research on sociometric status, there are several limitations to this literature. Most of the research has focused on the United States, so researchers do not know whether the same principles hold true in other cultures. There is a heavy emphasis on the role of cognition because the cognitive perspective dominated developmental psychology during the 1980s and 1990s when much of this research took place. There is also a strong emphasis on the individual and how he or she is affected by sociometric status. Future research must focus more on dyads and groups as the units of analysis. Much of the research has taken place with racially undiverse populations. Only in the early part of the twenty-first century did researchers begin in earnest to explore gender and ethnic differences in sociometric status. Finally, interventions depend on whether researchers view certain behaviors as adaptive or maladaptive. For example, is the aggression that reputationally popular children display considered good (assertiveness) or bad (bullying)? Should it be encouraged or discouraged? Parents, teachers, and researchers must work together to determine the future direction of research on sociometric status.
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