Despite being one of the least studied components of social influence, positive peer associations have much to offer social learning theories of crime. The purpose of the current investigation was to determine whether positive peer associations moderate the peer influence effect central to social learning theory. Data provided by 3869 (1970 boys, 1899 girls) members of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) were used to test the hypothesis that positive peer associations interact with components of peer influence to protect adolescents against future delinquency. A simple mediation analysis confirmed the existence of a significant indirect effect running from peer delinquency, to low empathy, to participant delinquency. When positive peer associations were added to the model as moderators, they achieved a significant negative moderating effect on the peer delinquency-low empathy path and a significant positive moderating effect on the low empathy-participant delinquency path. In this study, positive peer associations increased empathy in children with fewer delinquent peer associations and decreased offending in children with lower levels of empathy. Given evidence of their ability to inhibit negative peer influence and promote empathy in the service of reduced delinquency, positive peer associations deserve more attention from social learning theories of crime than they have thus far received.
Keywords: Moderated mediation; Positive peer associations; Social learning theory.