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J Pediatr Psychol. 2011 Oct;36(9):980-90. doi: 10.1093/jpepsy/jsr053. Epub 2011 Aug 18.

High peer popularity longitudinally predicts adolescent health risk behavior, or does it?: an examination of linear and quadratic associations.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3270, USA.



In contrast to prior work, recent theory suggests that high, not low, levels of adolescent peer popularity may be associated with health risk behavior. This study examined (a) whether popularity may be uniquely associated with cigarette use, marijuana use, and sexual risk behavior, beyond the predictive effects of aggression; (b) whether the longitudinal association between popularity and health risk behavior may be curvilinear; and (c) gender moderation.


A total of 336 adolescents, initially in 10-11th grades, reported cigarette use, marijuana use, and number of sexual intercourse partners at two time points 18 months apart. Sociometric peer nominations were used to examine popularity and aggression.


Longitudinal quadratic effects and gender moderation suggest that both high and low levels of popularity predict some, but not all, health risk behaviors.


New theoretical models can be useful for understanding the complex manner in which health risk behaviors may be reinforced within the peer context.

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