Social Networks and the Diffusion of Adolescent Problem Behavior: Reliable Estimates of Selection and Influence from Sixth Through Ninth Grades

D. Wayne Osgood, Mark E. Feinberg, Daniel T. Ragan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

15 Scopus citations


Seeking to reduce problematic peer influence is a prominent theme of programs to prevent adolescent problem behavior. To support the refinement of this aspect of prevention programming, we examined peer influence and selection processes for three problem behaviors (delinquency, alcohol use, and smoking). We assessed not only the overall strengths of these peer processes, but also their consistency versus variability across settings. We used dynamic stochastic actor-based models to analyze five waves of friendship network data across sixth through ninth grades for a large sample of U.S. adolescents. Our sample included two successive grade cohorts of youth in 26 school districts participating in the PROSPER study, yielding 51 longitudinal social networks based on respondents’ friendship nominations. For all three self-reported antisocial behaviors, we found evidence of both peer influence and selection processes tied to antisocial behavior. There was little reliable variance in these processes across the networks, suggesting that the statistical imprecision of the peer influence and selection estimates in previous studies likely accounts for inconsistencies in results. Adolescent friendship networks play a strong role in shaping problem behavior, but problem behaviors also inform friendship choices. In addition to preferring friends with similar levels of problem behavior, adolescents tend to choose friends who engage in problem behaviors, thus creating broader diffusion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)832-843
Number of pages12
JournalPrevention Science
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Aug 22 2015


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

Cite this