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Soc Sci Med. 2012 Jun;74(12):1952-60. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.02.009. Epub 2012 Mar 13.

Social network influences on adolescent substance use: disentangling structural equivalence from cohesion.

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Division of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences, School of Public Health, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, USA.


This study investigates two contagion mechanisms of peer influence based on direct communication (cohesion) versus comparison through peers who occupy similar network positions (structural equivalence) in the context of adolescents' drinking alcohol and smoking. To date, the two contagion mechanisms have been considered observationally inseparable, but this study attempts to disentangle structural equivalence from cohesion as a contagion mechanism by examining the extent to which the transmission of drinking and smoking behaviors attenuates as a function of social distance (i.e., from immediate friends to indirectly connected peers). Using the U.S. Add Health data consisting of a nationally representative sample of American adolescents (Grades 7-12), this study measured peer risk-taking up to four steps away from the adolescent (friends of friends of friends of friends) using a network exposure model. Peer influence was tested using a logistic regression model of alcohol drinking and cigarette smoking. Results indicate that influence based on structural equivalence tended to be stronger than influence based on cohesion in general, and that the magnitude of the effect decreased up to three steps away from the adolescent (friends of friends of friends). Further analysis indicated that structural equivalence acted as a mechanism of contagion for drinking and cohesion acted as one for smoking. These results indicate that the two transmission mechanisms with differing network proximities can differentially affect drinking and smoking behaviors in American adolescents.

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