Book Review: Peer pressure, peer prevention: The role of friends in crime and conformity

Published date01 December 2017
Date01 December 2017
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Costello, B. J., & Hope, T. L. (2016).
Peer pressure, peer prevention: The role of friends in crime and conformity. New York, NY: Routledge.
ix, 121 pp. $44.95, ISBN 978-1-138-95169-3.
Reviewed by: Samantha S. Clinkinbeard, University of Nebraska Omaha, Omaha, NE, USA
DOI: 10.1177/0734016817694939
Barbara Costello and Trina Hope contribute to the literature on peer influence in the areas of crime
and conformity by exploring questions and using simple methodologies that have been long over-
looked by criminologists. The authors argue that despite decades of work confirming that delinquent
youth often have delinquent friends and a lot of deviant behavior happens in groups, we still know
little about the mechanisms of peer influence. The authors note that because criminologists have
long operated based on the assumption that peer influence is negative, the field has ignored the
potentially positive effects that peers can have on one another. Costello and Hope investigate three
questions: (1) Do friends have a causal influence on deviant behavior and what are the mechanisms
through which this might happen? (2) Are positive influence attempts by friends commonplace and
what are the mechanisms of positive influence? and (3) What is the relationship between social and
self-control and the frequency and success of influence attempts?
Costello and Hope argue that the failure to fully understand the inner workings of peer influence
exists, in part, because ‘‘...the most sophisticated statistical methods cannot overcome the problem
of not asking our respondents the right questions’’ (p. 9). The authors approach the subject of peer
influence simply, yet effectively, by directly asking participants to describe how peers influence one
another. Utilizing class essays and open-ended survey questions, they asked students at two uni-
versities to describe instances in which they witnessed individuals or groups influence, or attempt to
influence, the behavior of others in either negative or positive directions.
The authors begin by reviewing the state of theory and literature on peer influence and identifying
the unanswered questions explored in later chapters. In Chapter 3, they explore the qualitati ve
accounts of negative peer influence and find evidence that peers do directly influence each other
toward deviant behavior, ruling out self-selection as the sole explanation for peer influence. They
find that peers influence each other in a number of ways, supporting aspects of multiple theoretical
frames. Consistent with self-selection, self-control, and routine activities, participants frequently
reported simple offers or invitations as being enough to encourage deviance. They also found that
deviance happened as a result of desires to emulate others or fit into a desired crowd, even without
specific prompting. Finally, general peer pressure and coercive attempts, which are more in line with
aspects of subcultural explanations and learning theories, were fairly common.
In Chapter 4, the authors presented the findings on positive peer influence, noting that respon-
dents reported more instances of positive influence than negative, contradicting the assumption
that peer influence is relegated to the adverse. General pressure was common, as was the use of
coercive tactics and emphasizing the consequences, either positive or negative, of the behavior in
question. The authors also reported a simple opportunity effect and evidence supportive of direct
influence on behavior by peers. Costello and Hope suggest that there is still much to learn about
positive influence, including the questions of who does it, when does it happen, and under
what circumstances.
In Chapter 5, the authors use survey data to test various hypotheses about peer informal social
control. The authors predicted that individuals with higher self-control, peer attachment, and general
social bonds would be more likely to attempt to intervene on behalf of their friends. Participants with
strong peer attachment were not necessarily more likely to intervene but were more likely to be
successful when they did. They were also more likely to be targets of social control attempts. Social
416 Criminal Justice Review 42(4)

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