Beyond susceptibility: Openness to peer influence is predicted by adaptive social relationships. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 46(3), 180–189.
This study examined the hypothesis, derived from theories highlighting the importance of group harmony and sense of belonging in human relationships, that the adolescents who are most likely to be influenced by their close friends are those who have the highest quality social relationships. Potential moderators of close friend influence on adolescent substance use were examined in a sample of 157 adolescents followed across a 1-year period in mid-adolescence using a combination of observational, sociometric, and self- and peer-report measures. As hypothesized, the degree to which adolescents changed their levels of substance use in accord with a close friend’s levels of use at baseline was predicted by multiple, independent markers of higher quality social relationships including having a higher quality maternal relationship, being identified as a socially desirable companion within the broader peer group, and having a close friend who handled disagreements with warmth and autonomy. Notably, influence processes were neutral in valence: Teens displayed relative reductions in substance use when their close friends had low levels of use and the opposite when their friends had high levels of use. Results are discussed as suggesting the need to distinguish overall normative and adaptive peer influence processes from the sometimes maladaptive effects that can occur when teens associate with specific deviant peers or with a problematic adolescent subculture.