Positive and Negative Peer Influence in Residential Care

Jonathan C. Huefner, Gail L. Smith, Amy L. Stevens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The potential for negative peer influence has been well established in research, and there is a growing interest in how positive peer influence also impacts youth. No research, however, has concurrently examined positive and negative peer influence in the context of residential care. Clinical records for 886 residential care youth were used in a Hierarchical Linear Model analysis to examine the impact of negative and positive peer influence on naturally occurring patterns of serious problem behavior over time. Negative peer influence, where the majority of youth in a home manifested above the average number of serious behavior problems, occurred 13.7% of the time. Positive peer influence, where the majority of youth manifested no serious problem behaviors for the month, occurred 47.7% of the time. Overall, youth problem behavior improved over time. There were significantly lower rates of serious problem behavior in target youth during positive peer influence months. Conversely, there were significantly higher rates of serious problem behaviors in target youth during negative peer influence months. Negative peer influence had a relatively greater impact on target peers’ serious behavior problems than did positive peer influence. Caregiver experience significantly reduced the impact of negative peer influence, but did not significantly augment positive peer influence. Months where negative peer influence was combined with inexperienced caregivers produced the highest rates of serious problem behavior. Our results support the view that residential programs for troubled youth need to create circumstances that promote positive and control for negative peer influence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1161-1169
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Hierarchical linear modeling
  • Incident data
  • Negative peer influence
  • Positive peer influence
  • Residential care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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