Peer Selection Dynamics in Friendship and Antipathy Networks: Contributions from Peer Stress and Gender

Marissa Davila

Advisor: Olga Kornienko, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Timothy Curby, Tara Chaplin

Online Location, Online
August 25, 2022, 12:00 PM to 02:00 PM


Peer relationships during adolescence are multifaceted. Adolescents are often required to navigate both positive relationships, or friendships, and negative relationships, or antipathies, simultaneously. These relationships do not occur in a social vacuum; they inform one another and are shaped by a myriad of developmental outcomes and interpersonal experiences. Experiencing interpersonal peer stress is highly salient for youth, yet we know relatively little about the impact that it has on the dynamics of adolescent peer relationships. Drawing on multiple developmental frameworks (social goals, gender-linked social tasks, and interpersonal stress), the present study examined how peer interpersonal stress was associated with the selection of friendship and antipathy networks over time. Additionally, we considered how the associations of peer stress on friendship selection might unfold differently for boys and girls. In a sample of 709 adolescents from the northwestern US, a multiplex longitudinal social network analysis (RSiena) revealed that peer adversity had contradicting effects on the number of outgoing ties in friendship networks based on school context. It is plausible that adolescents with elevated peer stress may be seeking out peers for support in one context, while withdrawing from relationships and seeking out support elsewhere in another context. Additionally, adolescents with higher levels of peer stress received more friendship and antipathy nominations. These findings suggest that higher levels of peer stress are associated with more controversial and potentially stressful positions within peer networks. Finally, boys who reported higher levels of peer stress were more likely to select friends who reported experiencing similar levels of peer stress, whereas girls were more likely to avoid befriending others who reported high levels of peer stress. These results indicate that girls and boys who experience peer stress may not endure the same relational difficulties, which could be consequential for their subsequent psychological adjustment (e.g., internalizing and externalizing behaviors). These findings extend the literature by showing that peer stress, while normative, is associated with relational challenges and warrants further discussion in schools alongside more intense forms of interpersonal peer stress such as bullying and victimization. In conclusion, this study extends developmental research by documenting that interpersonal peer stress has distinct implications for the dynamics of positive and negative peer relationships in adolescence.