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Individual Attitudes toward Deviant Behavior and Perceived Attitudes of Friends: Self-stereotyping and Social Projection in Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood

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The transmission of attitudes toward deviant behavior occurs in social contexts such as peer groups. Accordingly, individuals align their attitudes to those of friends because they want to belong to that social category or, conversely, individual attitudes influence the perception of peer attitudes. Hence, individuals self-stereotype themselves as being members of a peer group or they project their attitudes onto friends. However, it is unclear which process—self-stereotyping or social projection—is predominant in determining similarity of individual and peer attitudes toward deviant behavior. Furthermore, it is unclear whether predominance changes between early/middle adolescence and emerging adulthood. These gaps are examined with panel data on individual attitudes toward deviant behavior and perceived attitudes of individuals’ friends from a German study covering ages 14 to 20 (N = 3723; proportion of male respondents across panel waves ranges between 42 and 49%). A random intercepts cross-lagged panel model is applied to the data to estimate within-person effects in both directions, which allows to answer whether self-stereotyping or social projection is predominant and whether predominance changes across time. The results indicate that self-stereotyping is active almost entirely in adolescence and emerging adulthood. Reversed effects only occur during the transition from adolescence to emerging adulthood, signaling a developmental shift toward social projection. Thus, the influence of perceived peer attitudes toward deviant behavior on individual attitudes decreases in the phase in which adolescents develop into young adults. At the same time, individuals’ own attitudes become increasingly influential for making inferences about the attitudes of their peers.

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  1. For this purpose, respondents had to recall a self-generated code across time. This method was used to ensure the greatest extent of anonymity. However, the ability of respondents to memorize their individual code correctly is distributed differently, for example across gender.

  2. A description of the German educational system with its different school types is given by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany (2017).

  3. Ethnicity was inferred from parents’ country of origin (asked at age 14). For example, the proportion of respondents holding German citizenship is much higher (86% at age 20).

  4. Descriptive information on the 140 items (10 items per construct across 7 panel waves) can be requested from the author.

  5. In the current analysis, the units are individuals. However, in other research contexts units may refer to other entities such as companies, countries, cultures, or groups.

  6. The terms factor and construct are used interchangeably in this context.

  7. All chi-squares reported in this study refer to the test statistic of Yuan and Bentler (2000). Chi-square difference tests refer to the method proposed by Satorra and Bentler (2010).


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The author would like to thank Professor Klaus Boers and Professor Jost Reinecke for granting access to the data and Lisa Trierweiler for the English proof of the manuscript.

Data Sharing and Declaration

Syntaxes and descriptive statistics are available from the corresponding author on request. The data can be requested contacting the principal investigators of the Crimoc project (

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Correspondence to Daniel Seddig.

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The author declare that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Standards

The German Research Foundation (DFG), funding organization of the Crimoc study, obliges project participants to adhere to “Safeguarding Good Scientific Practice”.

Informed Consent

For surveys in schools, school principals agreed that their school participated. Participants and their parents provided the informed consent before first participation in the study.

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Table A4 Conventional cross-lagged panel model estimates (N = 3723)

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Seddig, D. Individual Attitudes toward Deviant Behavior and Perceived Attitudes of Friends: Self-stereotyping and Social Projection in Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood. J Youth Adolescence 49, 664–677 (2020).

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