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Prev Sci. 2016 Apr;17(3):285-94. doi: 10.1007/s11121-015-0605-4.

Changing Friend Selection in Middle School: A Social Network Analysis of a Randomized Intervention Study Designed to Prevent Adolescent Problem Behavior.

Author information

T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, Arizona State University, PO Box 873701, Tempe, AZ, 85287, USA.
Institute for Interdisciplinary Salivary Bioscience Research (IISBR), Arizona State University, 550 E. Orange St., Tempe, AZ, 85287, USA.
Oregon Research Institute, 1776 Millrace Dr., Eugene, OR, 97403, USA.
University of Oregon, 1585 E 13th Ave, Eugene, OR, 97403, USA.
REACH Institute, Arizona State University, PO Box 876005, Tempe, AZ, 85287, USA.


Adolescent friendships that promote problem behavior are often chosen in middle school. The current study examines the unintended impact of a randomized school-based intervention on the selection of friends in middle school, as well as on observations of deviant talk with friends 5 years later. Participants included 998 middle school students (526 boys and 472 girls) recruited at the onset of middle school (age 11-12 years) from three public middle schools participating in the Family Check-up model intervention. The current study focuses only on the effects of the SHAPe curriculum-one level of the Family Check-up model-on friendship choices. Participants nominated friends and completed measures of deviant peer affiliation. Approximately half of the sample (n = 500) was randomly assigned to the intervention, and the other half (n = 498) comprised the control group within each school. The results indicate that the SHAPe curriculum affected friend selection within school 1 but not within schools 2 or 3. The effects of friend selection in school 1 translated into reductions in observed deviancy training 5 years later (age 16-17 years). By coupling longitudinal social network analysis with a randomized intervention study, the current findings provide initial evidence that a randomized public middle school intervention can disrupt the formation of deviant peer groups and diminish levels of adolescent deviance 5 years later.


Adolescence; Deviancy training; Deviant peers; Friend selection; Intervention effects

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