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Keywords:

  • adolescents;
  • high school;
  • peer group self-identification;
  • physical aggression;
  • relational aggression

BACKGROUND: Adolescent peer group self-identification refers to adolescents' affiliation with reputation-based peer groups such as “Goths” or “Jocks.” These groups tend to vary on normative characteristics, including the group members' attitudes and behaviors. This article examined whether adolescents' baseline peer group self-identification predicted their self-reported relational and physical aggression 1 year later.

METHODS: Self-report data were collected from 1614 students from 9 regular and 9 continuation (alternative) high schools in Southern California, at baseline and 1-year follow-up. Subjects' mean baseline age was 15.21 years (SD = 1.18) and 51.6% of the subjects were female.

RESULTS: Findings indicated that compared with self-identified “Regular” or “Normal” students, adolescents who identified with high-risk peer groups (eg, “Druggies,”“Goths”) tended to report higher relational and physical aggression 1 year later, controlling for baseline aggression and demographic variables. In addition, adolescents' self-identification with high-status peer groups (eg, “Jocks,”“Populars”) was predictive of higher relational aggression 1 year later. Gender and school type (ie, regular vs continuation) were not found to moderate these effects.

CONCLUSIONS: It appears that peer group self-identification is a salient predictor of physical and relational aggression across gender and school type. Adolescents who identify with high-risk peer groups tend to report higher levels of physical as well as relational aggression in the future. In addition, adolescents who affiliate with elite groups tend to become more relationally aggressive over time. School-based prevention programs targeting aggression may benefit from addressing the impacts of peer group self-identification on adolescents' aggressive behavior.