, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp 293-306

False Consensus and Adolescent Peer Contagion: Examining Discrepancies between Perceptions and Actual Reported Levels of Friends’ Deviant and Health Risk Behaviors

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Abstract

Adolescents’ perceptions of their friends’ behavior strongly predict adolescents’ own behavior, however, these perceptions often are erroneous. This study examined correlates of discrepancies between adolescents’ perceptions and friends’ reports of behavior. A total of 120 11th-grade adolescents provided data regarding their engagement in deviant and health risk behaviors, as well as their perceptions of the behavior of their best friend, as identified through sociometric assessment. Data from friends’ own report were used to calculate discrepancy measures of adolescents’ overestimations and estimation errors (absolute value of discrepancies) of friends’ behavior. Adolescents also completed a measure of friendship quality, and a sociometric assessment yielding measures of peer acceptance/rejection and aggression. Findings revealed that adolescents’ peer rejection and aggression were associated with greater overestimations of friends’ behavior. This effect was partially mediated by adolescents’ own behavior, consistent with a false consensus effect. Low levels of positive friendship quality were significantly associated with estimation errors, but not overestimations specifically.