Peer contagion in child and adolescent social and emotional development

Annu Rev Psychol. 2011;62:189-214. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.093008.100412.


In this article, we examine the construct of peer contagion in childhood and adolescence and review studies of child and adolescent development that have identified peer contagion influences. Evidence suggests that children's interactions with peers are tied to increases in aggression in early and middle childhood and amplification of problem behaviors such as drug use, delinquency, and violence in early to late adolescence. Deviancy training is one mechanism that accounts for peer contagion effects on problem behaviors from age 5 through adolescence. In addition, we discuss peer contagion relevant to depression in adolescence, and corumination as an interactive process that may account for these effects. Social network analyses suggest that peer contagion underlies the influence of friendship on obesity, unhealthy body images, and expectations. Literature is reviewed that suggests how peer contagion effects can undermine the goals of public education from elementary school through college and impair the goals of juvenile corrections systems. In particular, programs that "select" adolescents at risk for aggregated preventive interventions are particularly vulnerable to peer contagion effects. It appears that a history of peer rejection is a vulnerability factor for influence by peers, and adult monitoring, supervision, positive parenting, structure, and self-regulation serve as protective factors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development
  • Aggression
  • Child
  • Child Development
  • Emotions*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Juvenile Delinquency
  • Male
  • Peer Group*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Environment*
  • Violence