*The following is excerpted from an online article from PsychCentral.
Teens significantly overestimate their peers involvement in substance use and sexual behaviors, but underestimate the amount of time their peers spend studying or exercising, according to new research based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Since teens are sensitive to the judgment of their peers, researchers are working to better understand the role that ‘peer pressure’ truly plays during this vulnerable stage. The study sheds light on teen misperceptions of their peers’ behavior as well as the implications of this.
For the study, researchers reviewed the perceptions and behaviors of 235 10th grade participants at a suburban, middle-income high school. They followed a method commonly used in adolescent research, in which five reputation-based groups were identified: socially-oriented populars, athletically-oriented jocks, deviant-oriented burnouts, academically-oriented brains, and students who were not strongly affiliated with any specific crowd.
“The behavior of all types of kids are grossly misunderstood or misperceived by adolescents, not just the jocks and the populars but also the brains and the burnouts” said senior investigator Mitch Prinstein, John Van Seters Distinguished Professor of Psychology at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Students reported their engagement in a variety of behaviors confidentially, allowing researchers to compare the actual and perceived behavior of the groups. Each group expressed what the researchers called ‘gross misperceptions.’ Even teens in the high-status groups had exaggerated perceptions of their own group peers’ risky behaviors.
“The implications … are troubling,” said the researchers in the American Psychological Association journal. “Results suggest that adolescents have a caricatured perception of their peers’ behavior (perhaps especially so for high-status peers) and are influenced by those gross misperceptions.”