The main focus for my research over the course of my studies in the Criminal Justice program are the factors that compell an adolescent to participate in deviant behavior.  An adolescent’s environment  is one of the factors that affects an adolescent’s behavior. Therefore, my question for this research project is do adolescent peers have an effect on adolescent behavior?

For the purposes of this project I will be studying a network of student at a single school in order to investigate my research question.  I will be using existing data from the first wave of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health).  The first wave of the study took place during the 1994-1995 school year.  The study consisted of a nationally representative  sample of students in grades 7 through 12 in the United States.  As a part of the survey process for the first wave, participants were asked to identify five close female friends and five close male friends from a school roster. In addition, participants were also asked questions about alcohol and drug use as well as sexual activity.  Due to the number of  participants in the study and the  sheer amount of data that is available, I will focus my analysis on a single school. I believe that the key to analyzing peer influence is looking at the in-degrees and out-degrees of a node to determine if there are reciprocal relationships between the individual and the other individuals that they consider to be close friends.

High School hallway showing student lockers

There is an abundance of research that has looked at the influence peers have on adolscent behavior.   Many studies have used the dataset from Add Health to study the influence of peers on adolescents. Keon and Goodson (2015) used to data from two schools that participated in the study to analyze friendship networks and risky behavior of participants. Their main focus was the degree centrality of each individual node and that node’s response to the following question: Did you  engage in sexual activity and alcohol consumption simultaneously?  Fujimoto, Unger, and Valente (2012), used SNA to also look at how peers influence behavior through the measurement of affiliation- based peer influence.  The study specifically analyzed networks within school based team sports. Kobus and Henry (2009) looked at the position of individual nodes in a network consisting of adolescents  in sixth through eighth grade as well as interactions with other individual nodes in the network to  predict the use of cigarettes, marijuana, and alcohol in adolescents.

To build on the existing research, I want to also analyze the existing data to determine if there is an individual  or individuals who are the main source of the deviant behavior. This indentification could be helpful in the formulation and implementation of programs that are aimed at stopping and preventing deviant behavior in adolescents.

The data collection method used in Fu (2005) is useful to my own research. Fu used responses generated from participants to develop the social network much like what I will do for my own research.