Sunday, January 24, 2016

Adolescent Susceptibility to Peer Influence in Sexual Situations

One consistent predictor of adolescents' engagement in sexual risk behavior is their belief that peers are engaging in similar behavior; however, not all youth are equally susceptible to these peer influence effects. Understanding individual differences in susceptibility to peer influence is critical to identifying adolescents at risk for negative health outcomes. The purpose of this project was to identify predictors of susceptibility to peer influence using a novel performance-based measure of sexual risk taking.

Participants were 300 early adolescents (Mage = 12.6 years; 53% female; 44% Caucasian) who completed (1) a pretest assessment of demographics, sexual attitudes, and hypothetical scenarios measuring the likelihood of engaging in sexual risk behavior and (2) a subsequent experimental procedure that simulated an Internet chat room in which youth believed that they were communicating with peers regarding these same hypothetical scenarios. In reality, these "peers" were computer-programmed e-confederates. Changes in responses to the sexual scenarios in the private pretest versus during the public chat room provided a performance-based measure of peer influence susceptibility.

In total, 78% of youth provided more risky responses in the chat room than those in pretest. The most robust predictor of this change was gender, with boys significantly more susceptible to peer influence than girls. Significant interactions also were noted, with greater susceptibility among boys with later pubertal development and African-American boys.

Results confirm that not all youth are equally susceptible to peer influence. Consistent with sexual script theory, boys evidence greater susceptibility to social pressure regarding sexual behavior than girls.

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  • 1Department of Psychology (, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina; Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Electronic address:
  • 2Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. 
  •  2016 Jan 12. pii: S1054-139X(15)00671-0. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2015.10.253.

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