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01-09-2014 | Empirical Research | Uitgave 9/2014

Journal of Youth and Adolescence 9/2014

Cross-Gender Social Normative Effects for Violence in Middle School: Do Girls Carry a Social Multiplier Effect for At-Risk Boys?

Journal of Youth and Adolescence > Uitgave 9/2014
Lisa M. Yarnell, Keryn E. Pasch, H. Shelton Brown III, Cheryl L. Perry, Kelli A. Komro


A social multiplier effect is a social interaction in which the behavior of a person in a social network varies with the normative behavior of others in the network, also known as an endogenous interaction. Policies and intervention efforts can harness social multiplier effects because, in theory, interventions on a subset of individuals will have “spillover effects” on other individuals in the network. This study investigates potential social multiplier effects for violence in middle schools, and whether there is evidence for a social multiplier effect transmitted from girls to boys. Three years of longitudinal data (2003–2005) from Project Northland Chicago were used to investigate this question, with a sample consisting of youth in Grades 6 through 8 in 61 Chicago Public Schools (N = 4,233 at Grade 6, N = 3,771 at Grade 7, and N = 3,793 at Grade 8). The sample was 49.3 % female, and primarily African American (41.9 %) and Latino/a (28.7 %), with smaller proportions of whites (12.9 %), Asians (5.2 %) and other ethnicities. Results from two sets of regression models estimating the effects of 20th (low), 50th (average), and 80th (high) percentile scores for girls and boys on levels of violence in each gender group revealed evidence for social multiplier effects. Specifically, boys and girls were both influenced by social multiplier effects within their own gender group, and boys were also affected by normative violence scores among girls, typically those of the best-behaved (20th percentile) girls. The finding that girls may have positive social influence on boys’ levels of violent behavior extends prior findings of beneficial social effects of girls on boys in the domains of education and risky driving. Further, this social normative effect presents a potential opportunity to improve school-based intervention efforts for reducing violence among youth by leveraging girls as carriers of a social multiplier effect for reduced violence in the middle school environmental context, particularly among boys, who are at greater risk.

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