Are Impulsive Adolescents Differentially Vulnerable to Normative or Situational Peer Influences? A Partial Replication Study

Date01 November 2019
Published date01 November 2019
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2019, Vol. 35(4) 461 –483
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1043986219873185
Are Impulsive Adolescents
Differentially Vulnerable to
Normative or Situational
Peer Influences? A Partial
Replication Study
Ann De Buck1 and Lieven J. R. Pauwels1
Ample research in criminology investigates the role of deviant peers in the
development of adolescent offending. Different theoretical explanations account
for distinct peer influences. The socialization perspective argues that deviant peers
influence behavior through the provision of norms and values, whereas the situational
perspective argues that deviant peers provide situational opportunities for deviant
behavior. This study partially retests the propositions put forward by Thomas and
McGloin’s study of dual systems, differential peer effects, and adolescent offending.
We address the question to what extent trait impulsivity affects social and situational
peer processes controlling for parental supervision, family bond, school bond, and
deviant norms. Analysis of the cross-national International Self-Report Delinquency
Study (ISRD3) data suggests that adolescents at the edges of trait impulsivity are
differentially vulnerable to the effects of deviant peer processes. However, the
findings need to be nuanced. We discuss the contribution of the current study to a
better understanding of the interplay between individual characteristics and exposure
to deviant peers.
normative peer influence, situational peer influence, impulsivity, adolescent offending,
1Faculty of Law and Criminology, Ghent University, Belgium
Corresponding Author:
Ann De Buck, Faculty of Law and Criminology, Ghent University, Universiteitstraat 4, 9000 Ghent,
873185CCJXXX10.1177/1043986219873185Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeDe Buck and Pauwels
462 Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 35(4)
Introduction and Research Problem
There is an impressive amount of theoretical and empirical work arguing that peer
processes are related to adolescent offending. One could say that there are two broad
interpretations. A socialization perspective underscores the importance of normative
influences of associations with deviant peers. A situational perspective stresses the
importance of unstructured and unsupervised socializing with peers who need not nec-
essarily be deviant themselves. The latter asserts that merely unstructured and unsu-
pervised socializing with peers can create situational temptations and opportunities
that facilitate offending. The former emphasizes criminogenic processes operating at
the individual level with deviant peers teaching norms favorable to crime, providing
reinforcement and models of criminal behavior. These two viewpoints have been dom-
inant in the research on explaining adolescent offending. Yet, they seem to imply that
peer-based processes affect all adolescents in the same way. However, individuals
differ in their responses to given events or conditions (Matsueda, 1992) lending sup-
port to a differential peer influence hypothesis (Thomas & McGloin, 2013).
In their original study, Thomas and McGloin (2013) comment on the universality
of these two distinct peer perspectives from the framework of dual systems of cogni-
tive decision-making: that is, the theoretical distinction between System 1 and System
2 cognitions. Individual reactions to given criminogenic conditions may involve both
System 1 (i.e., “fast, automatic, intuitive”) and System 2 (i.e., “slower, effortful,
deliberate”) information processing. Also, certain individual traits such as impulsiv-
ity are said to influence the likelihood of “fast” or “slower” information processing.
The basic argument of Thomas and McGloin (2013) is that high- or low-impulsive
individuals should be differentially vulnerable to these peer influences because of
their tendency to rely on only one system of decision-making. Using two longitudinal
datasets, the authors found support for their proposition that deviant normative peer
influence increases the likelihood of offending especially in low-impulsive adoles-
cents. Besides, only minimal support was found for a differential influence of unstruc-
tured and unsupervised socializing with peers.
The present study restricts itself to one main goal, that is, to retest the propositions
of Thomas and McGloin (2013) using the same unifying theoretical framework. By
replicating a theoretical framework that questions the generality of two peer-based
processes for adolescent offending, we aim to contribute to the criminological litera-
ture in two ways. First, it has been argued that replication studies in criminology,
although rare and infrequently published (McNeeley & Warner, 2015), are necessary
to determine if a theory can survive critical tests and as such to ensure its robust
empirical success (Pridemore, Makel, & Plucker, 2018). Second, and more generally,
the original study of Thomas and McGloin (2013) addresses a topic that is at the heart
of the criminological discipline. It attempts to move forward our understanding of how
adolescents make their decisions to offend by appealing to a dual-systems model of
decision-making. In doing so, the authors aim to provide new insights that may help to
answer the question if adolescent offending is the result of impulsive or deliberate
decisions (for a state of the art review of the main paradigms in offender

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