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Am Psychol. 1999 Sep;54(9):755-64.

When interventions harm. Peer groups and problem behavior.

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Oregon Social Learning Center, Eugene 97401-2926, USA.


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.

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