Loeber noted that while findings applied equally to boys and girls in some studies, because most studies are conducted with boys, the findings may not in fact be generalizable to the experiences of girls.

While time limitations did not allow for an exhaustive review of the relevant research at the workshop, participants were able to discuss the important role that peers play in the relationship between delinquency and poor school performance. That peers exercise influence on the development of delinquent behavior is a common perception among researchers. Workshop participants discussed three issues related to the effects of peers on delinquency: delinquent peer conversations, peer rejection, and unintended negative effects of grouping high-risk youth together for services or programs.


Studies have found evidence of negative effects attributed to deviant peer associations (Gottfredson, 1987). Many schools include programs designed to improve children’s social behavior. Guided counseling programs, for example, have been mandated in some states. These programs are often administered to students in groups.

Thomas Dishion, of the University of Oregon’s Department of Psychology, described the danger of assuming that all intervention programs are benign. As part of a study designed to measure and code interactions among teenage boys assembled to discuss problems in their relationships with parents and peers, Dishion and his colleagues (1999) found that interactions among the boys were influenced by the content of their conversations. Conversation was classified into two categories: rule-breaking talk and norm-accepting talk. Researchers observed that the nonverbal reactions to rule-breaking and norm-accepting topics and activities communicated either positive or negative reinforcement for the associated behavior (Dishion et al., 1996a). Among nondelinquent dyads, normative talk led to positive reinforcement in the form of laughter. Alternatively, in dyads in which the members had some experience with delinquency, normative talk failed to elicit a positive response; only rule-breaking talk received positive feedback.

The researchers concluded from this study that delinquent peer groups are organized around rule-breaking talk (Dishion et al., 1996a). Positive reinforcement for rule-breaking talk is referred to as “deviancy training.” Dishion and his colleagues (1996b) found that, controlling for past behavior, deviancy training observed at ages 13 and 14 predicted an increased probability of escalating addictive substance use, delinquency (self-reported), and police-reported violent behavior in the next two years. These findings have been replicated among delinquent and nondelin-

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement