Examining The Roles of Peer Norms, Peer Influence Susceptibility, and Gender in Early Adolescents’ Numbers of Sexual Partners Over Time: An Innovative Experimental Paradigm and Longitudinal Study Design Public Deposited

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  • March 19, 2019
  • Choukas-Bradley, Sophia
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
  • This dissertation considers the complex roles of peer norms in early adolescents’ development of sexual behavior, with special attention to gender and peer influence susceptibility as moderators. Study 1 examined longitudinal associations between adolescents’ perceived peer norms and numbers of sexual partners, with gender examined as a moderator. Participants were 546 adolescents in grades 7 and 8 at three rural, low-income middle schools (55.9% female; Mage=13; 46.3% Caucasian, 27.5% African American, 23.3% Hispanic/Latino, 2.9% Other), followed for three years. Adolescents self-reported their perceptions of friends’ and popular peers’ attitudes and behaviors regarding coital and noncoital sexual behaviors at baseline, along with their own numbers of partners at three annual time points. Results revealed that, overall, peer norms were associated with adolescents’ numbers of sexual partners. Findings were generally stronger for boys than girls, and longitudinal associations were only found among boys. Additionally, results suggested that descriptive norms may be more relevant for adolescents’ sexual behavior than injunctive norms, and that norms were more predictive of noncoital than coital behaviors. Study 2 paired an experimental paradigm with this longitudinal study in a subset of 272 participants, examining peer influence susceptibility as a moderator of associations between peer norms and sexual behavior. In addition to self-reporting peer norms and sexual behavior as in Study 1, this subset participated in an experimental “chat room” paradigm involving “electronic confederates” who endorsed sexual behaviors. Changes in participants’ responses to hypothetical scenarios before versus during the “chat room” were used as a performance-based measure of peer influence susceptibility. Most models examined in Study 2 were non-significant, and no longitudinal associations were revealed. Among boys, some findings were consistent with hypotheses; peer norms were more strongly associated with concurrent sexual behavior at higher levels of susceptibility. Among girls, in contrast, some findings were unexpected and in the opposite direction, with peer norms more strongly associated with sexual behavior at lower susceptibility levels. This dissertation highlights the important roles of peer factors and gender in adolescents’ development of sexual behavior, and underscores the theoretical and methodological complexities of these associations. Implications for theory and prevention efforts are discussed.
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  • In Copyright
  • Payne, B. Keith
  • Baucom, Donald
  • Bardone-Cone, Anna
  • Halpern, Carolyn
  • Prinstein, Mitchell J.
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2016

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