When interventions harm. Peer groups and problem behavior

Am Psychol. 1999 Sep;54(9):755-64. doi: 10.1037//0003-066x.54.9.755.


This article explored developmental and intervention evidence relevant to iatrogenic effects in peer-group interventions. Longitudinal research revealed that "deviancy training" within adolescent friendships predicts increases in delinquency, substance use, violence, and adult maladjustment. Moreover, findings from 2 experimentally controlled intervention studies suggested that peer-group interventions increase adolescent problem behavior and negative life outcomes in adulthood, compared with control youth. The data from both experimental studies suggested that high-risk youth are particularly vulnerable to peer aggregations, compared with low-risk youth. We proposed that peer aggregation during early adolescence, under some circumstances, inadvertently reinforces problem behavior. Two developmental processes are discussed that might account for the powerful iatrogenic effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology
  • Humans
  • Juvenile Delinquency / prevention & control
  • Juvenile Delinquency / psychology
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Mental Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Peer Group*
  • Predictive Value of Tests