Key publications

  • Veenstra, R., Bertogna, T., & Laninga-Wijnen, L. (2024). The growth of longitudinal social network analysis: A review of the key data sets and topics in research on child and adolescent development. In M. E. Feinberg & D. W. Osgood (Eds.), Teen Friendship Networks, Development, and Risky Behavior (pp. 326-352). Oxford University Press, doi: 10.1093/oso/ 9780197602317.003.0014.

The field of social network studies has expanded in recent decades. This chapter describes the design, time window, and network questions of the 15 most used social network data sets. These central datasets predominantly stem from American and European samples. Avenues for further social network research are discussed as well. Longitudinal social network analysis has the advantage of allowing examination of the different types of influence and complexity of social networks. It is suitable for estimating complex forms of influence that are difficult to estimate using conventional regression, such as different types of influence (e.g., convergence vs. contagion or initiation vs. continuation); cross-behavior processes; bundles of behaviors; and various susceptibility models. It may also incorporate the impact of social norms, multiple similarity, other actors (e.g., parents), and multiplex networks. The ongoing refinement of social network methods, their application, and critical evaluation will undoubtedly give a boost to numerous innovative studies on topics that matter for the new generation of adolescents.

  • Laursen, B., & Veenstra, R. (2023). In defense of peer influence: The unheralded benefits of conformity. Child Development Perspectives, 17, 74-80, doi: 10.1111/cdep.12477.

Peer influence is an instrument of change, with outcomes that are not preordained: The same processes that make influence a source of harm also make it a valuable interpersonal resource. Yet the benefits of peer influence are insufficiently appreciated. Knowing when and how much to conform to the wishes of others is an important skill that children must acquire to adjust to and thrive in a social world dominated by peers. Peer influence can be an adaptive strategy whose benefits outweigh the costs that sometimes arise in its application. To overlook the adaptive consequences of peer influence is to miss the main point of conformity, which is to foster harmony between individuals and secure their interpersonal, physical, and mental well-being.

Peer relationships are prominent when children move into adolescence. Peer research has been motivated by an interest in understanding where peer interactions and relationships come from and how these experiences affect multiple aspects of positive and negative development. Peer research continues to provide insight in how adolescents strive for status and affection, how adolescents are connected to their peers, and how peers influence and select each other. Recent advances show the importance of considering variations between contexts (such as classrooms) in these peer processes. Selection and influence processes vary strongly between classrooms, and in particular popular peers set a norm for what behaviors are important for friendship selection and influence processes. Moreover, some contexts may elicit exacerbated social comparison processes, which may explain why certain individuals have academic or psychosocial maladjustment in some contexts but not in others. The avenues for further research offer researchers several opportunities to diversify and expand into new areas of inquiry among adolescents and young adults.

Peers gain heightened significance during adolescence. Youth organize themselves into peer networks that reflect clusters of social relationships, and these social networks play a prominent role in youth’s risk behaviors, internalizing symptoms, and adaptive behaviors. Remarkably, youth are often quite similar to their friends, which can be because of selection and influence processes. Whereas selection refers to the process where adolescents cluster with peers based on pre-existing similarities in behaviors, attitudes, or values, influence occurs when adolescents adjust their behaviors, attitudes, or values to those of their peers. Similarity-based selection may occur through preferential attraction, default selection, and repulsion, whereas influence toward similarity may occur through mutual encouragement, imitation, peer pressure, and conformity. Most evidence has been found for selection based on preferential attraction, and influence based on imitation and norms of popular peers. Individual, dyadic, and contextual factors contributing to variations between adolescents in openness to peer influence are discussed, as well as directions for further research.

This article focuses on the link between social norms and behavioral development as presented in research on norms regarding bullying and aggression. The aim is to present a conceptual framework for how classroom norms may explain children’s decisions to defend others or refrain from defending. Norms emerge from group consensus about what is appropriate in given social circumstances, and can also shape, constrain, and redirect behavior at the individual level. The study of norms has gained much attraction in peer relation research, and has turned attention to group-level processes, often defined at the classroom level, which create and sustain shared meanings that impact behavioral and social adjustment. Norm conformity, pluralistic ignorance, and power balance are presented as potential micro-level mechanisms for the link between classroom popularity (or rejection) norms and defending behavior. Directions for further research are discussed, including the need to assess and test the microfoundations directly, examine gender-specific versus common norms, focus on competing classroom norms, test developmental effects of norms, examine the impact of teachers on social norms, and pay attention to the influence of personal norms.

Peer influence occurs across a wide variety of behavioral domains, which is an important reason for peer-led interventions: interventions in which peers are involved in the delivery of the program. These programs are promising in combating undesirable behaviors (e.g., risk behavior) and promoting desirable behavior (e.g., healthy lifestyle), but it was shown recently that the effectiveness of these programs is modest at best and the mechanisms underlying programs’ effectiveness are poorly understood. Research is needed that promotes understanding of the relative, cumulative, and interactive impacts of different types of peer relations, and unpacks the various mechanisms underlying peer selection and influence. This has the potential to yield insights that advance theory and optimize peer-led interventions.

  • Güroğlu, B., & Veenstra, R. (2021). Neural underpinnings of peer experiences and interactions: A review of social neuroscience research. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 67, 416-456, doi: 10.13110/merrpalmquar1982.67.4.0416.

In peer relations research there is an increasing interest in studying the neural underpinnings of peer experiences in order to understand how peer interactions relate to adjustment and well-being. This review provides an overview of 27 studies examining how positive and negative peer experiences with personally familiar peers relate to neural processes. The review illustrates the ways that researchers have creatively designed controlled functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiments employing real-life relationships. The review highlights evidence supporting the role of reward and affect sensitivity as well as neural sensitivity to social exclusion in relation to peer experiences. Further, the review highlights research about how peer experiences modulate neural underpinnings of risk-taking and prosocial behavior. The review concludes with the challenges that studies aiming to combine peer and brain research face and provides avenues for future research.

  • Laursen, B., & Veenstra, R. (2021). Toward understanding the functions of peer influence: A summary and synthesis of recent empirical research. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 31, 889-907.

Compelling evidence demonstrates that peer influence is a pervasive force during adolescence, one that shapes adaptive and maladaptive attitudes and behaviors. This literature review focuses on factors that make adolescence a period of special vulnerability to peer influence. Herein we advance the influence-compatibility theory, which integrates converging views about early adolescence as a period of increased conformity with evidence that peer influence functions to increase affiliate similarity. Together, these developmental forces smooth the establishment of friendships and integration into the peer group, promote interpersonal and intragroup compatibility, and eliminate differences that might result in social exclusion.

Social network research is the way to examine bullying as a group process. Cross-sectional network studies allow us to examine who bullies whom or who defends whom, as well as the agreement on these dyadic relationships. Longitudinal network studies allow us to particularly examine selection and influence processes. The longitudinal studies with the most power have shown that selection and influence processes play a role for bullies. For victims, selection and influence processes have been found in adolescence (secondary education), but not in childhood (elementary education). Social network dynamics in bullying and victimization can also be linked to research on the impact of social norms or the evaluation of an intervention. Recent studies have also started to examine interdependencies between multiple positive and negative relationships. Most social network research on bullying and victimization has been done in late childhood or early adolescence. A few studies, however, have shown that it is also feasible to examine network-behavior dynamics at younger ages. Further research is necessary on whether and how individuals in a network, relationship patterns, or the entire network structure can be targeted by interventions.

  • Veenstra, R., Dijkstra, J.K., & Kreager, D.A. (2018). Pathways, networks, and norms: A sociological perspective on peer research. In W.M. Bukowski, B. Laursen, & K.H. Rubin (eds.) Handbook of peer interactions, relationships, and groups, 2nd edition (pp. 45-63). New York: Guilford. 
    Sociological approaches to adolescent peer relationships emphasize that youth behavior develops in complex social environments and that, simultaneously, behavior feeds back to shape adolescents’ environments. In this chapter, we have drawn heavily from the life course perspective, social network research, and theories of social norms to highlight innovative ways that sociologists are pushing the boundaries of peer research. The life course approach to human development has spurred much recent sociological research on peer relationships and within-person social pathways and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future. Likewise, research on social networks has tested long held claims of peer influence, opportunities, and selection processes. Finally, the study of social norms has gained much traction in peer relation research, focusing our attention on group-level processes for creating and sustaining shared meanings that impact adolescent behavioral and social adjustment. 
    The central theme of the chapter, and more broadly of the sociological approach to peer relations, is that one must first recognize the within-person variability in, and interdependence of, lived experiences prior to connecting these to changes in behavior over time. Given this recognition, research in this area has utilized increasingly sophisticated methods (e.g., longitudinal and trajectory analyses, network analyses, and multi-cohort designs) to test associations between adolescent life events and behavioral change. These efforts have pointed to specific peer-based programs and interventions to reduce health-risk behaviors and improve the lives of adolescents. 
  • Veenstra, R., Lindenberg, S., Huitsing, G., Sainio, M., & Salmivalli, C. (2014). The role of teachers in bullying: The relation between antibullying attitudes, efficacy, and efforts to reduce bullying. Journal of Educational Psychology, 106, 1135-1143. 
    In order to battle bullying, it can be important for students to have teachers whom they see as taking an active stand against bullying in terms of propagating antibullying norms and having an efficacious approach to decreasing bullying. This expectation was tested with data from the control schools of the Finnish evaluation of the KiVa antibullying program. Multilevel analyses of data from 2,776 fourth- to sixth- graders showed that students’ perceptions of their teachers’ efficacy in decreasing bullying was related to a lower level of peer-reported bullying. Students’ perceptions of their teachers’ efforts to decrease bullying, however, was cross-sectionally related to a higher level of peer-reported bullying, but over time was related to a reduction in peer-reported bullying. In classes where teachers were not perceived as efficacious and had to exert a great deal of effort to reduce bullying, students with probullying attitudes and without antibullying effort had the highest level of bullying. The current findings show that teachers can play an important role in antibullying programs and should be seen as targets of intervention. 
  • Veenstra, R., Dijkstra, J.K., Steglich, C., & Van Zalk, M.H.W. (2013). Network-behavior dynamics. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 23, 399-412. 
    Researchers have become increasingly interested in disentangling selection and influence processes. This literature review provides context for the special issue on network-behavior dynamics. It brings together important conceptual, methodological, and empirical contributions focusing on longitudinal social network modeling. First, an overview of mechanisms underlying selection and influence is given. After a description of the shortcomings of previous studies in this area, the stochastic actor-based model is sketched; this is used in this special issue to examine network-behavior dynamics. The preconditions for such analyses are discussed, as are common model specification issues. Next, recent empirical advances in research on adolescence are discussed, focusing on new insights into moderating effects, initiation of behaviors, time heterogeneity, mediation effects, and negative ties. 
  • Veenstra, R., Verlinden, M., Huitsing, G., Verhulst, F. C., & Tiemeier, H. (2013). Behind bullying and defending: Same-sex and other-sex relations and their associations with acceptance and rejection. Aggressive Behavior, 39, 462-471. 
    Relatively little is known about bullying and defending behaviors of children in early elementary school. However, this period is crucial for children’s development as at this age they start to participate in a stable peer group, and difficulties in social interactions can be detected early by professionals. An interactive animated web-based computer program was used in this study to assess peer relationships among young children. The computerized task was conducted among 2,135 children in grades 1-2 from 22 elementary schools to examine the association of bullying, victimization, and defending with being accepted or rejected. Same-sex and other-sex peer relations were distinguished using dyadic data. Both boys and girls were more likely to accept same-sex classmates than other-sex classmates, and boys were more often nominated than girls as perpetrators of bullying against both boys and girls. It was found that bullies were rejected by those for whom they posed a potential threat, and that defenders were preferred by those classmates for whom they were a potential source of protection. Bullies chose victims who were rejected by significant others, but contrary to expectations, children who bullied boys scored low on peer affection. It is possible that these bullies were not strategic enough to select the “right” targets. Overall, the current findings provide evidence for strategies involved in bullying and defending at early age. 
  • Veenstra, R., Lindenberg, S., Tinga, F., & Ormel, J. (2010). Truancy in late elementary and early secondary education: The influence of social bonds and self-control. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 34, 302-310. 
    Some pupils already show unexcused, illegal, surreptitious absences in elementary education or the first years of secondary education. Are weak social bonds (see also Hirschi, 1969) and a lack of self-control (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990) indicative of truancy at an early age? Of the children in our sample, 5% were persistent truants in late elementary education and early secondary education. Using multivariate analyses the influence of various predictors on persistent truancy was examined. Lack of attachment to norm-relevant significant others (parents and teachers) and lack of prosocial orientation were indicative of truancy. Social bonds with classmates had no effect on truancy. Other risk factors for truancy were being a boy, early pubertal development, family breakup, and low socio-economic status. The effect of self-control on truancy was partially mediated by social bonds. The impact of social bonds to norm-relevant significant others suggests that early truancy can partly be prevented by focusing on children’s relations with parents at home and with teachers at school. Prevention of truancy is desirable because the likelihood of involvement in other deviant behavior increases for truants. 
  • Veenstra, R., Huitsing, G., Dijkstra, J.K., & Lindenberg, S. (2010). Friday on my mind: The relation of partying with antisocial behavior of early adolescents. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 20, 420-431.
    The relation between partying and antisocial behavior was investigated using a sample of Dutch early adolescents (T2: N = 1,076; M age = 13.52). Antisocial behavior was divided into rule-breaking and aggressive behavior. Using a goal-framing approach, it was argued that the relation of partying to antisocial behavior depends on the way the need to belong is realized. Girls, in early adolescence often physically more mature than boys, are likely to seek older and, thus, often more antisocial boys for partying. Unpopular adolescents are likely to be among themselves when partying, and their feeling of exclusion is likely to lead to antisocial behavior. The findings show that girls who party are indeed at a greater risk of engaging in antisocial behavior, as are unpopular girls and boys. 
  • Veenstra, R., Lindenberg, S., Munniksma, A., & Dijkstra, J.K. (2010). The complex relation between bullying, victimization, acceptance, and rejection: Giving special attention to status, affection, and sex differences. Child Development, 81, 480-486. 
    To understand the complex nature of bullies’ acceptance and rejection, this article considered goal-framing effects of status and affection as they relate to the gender of the bully (male versus female bullies), the target (male versus female victims), and the evaluator (acceptance and rejection from male versus female classmates). The hypotheses were tested with data from a social network questionnaire conducted in 26 elementary school classes (N = 481 children; mean age 10.5 years). The findings revealed that bullies were only rejected by those for whom they were a potential threat and that bullies generally chose their victims so as to minimize loss of affection by choosing victims who were not likely to be defended by significant others. 
  • Veenstra, R., Lindenberg, S., Verhulst, F.C., & Ormel, J. (2009). Childhood-Limited versus Persistent Antisocial Behavior: Why Do Some Recover and Others Do Not? The TRAILS Study. Journal of Early Adolescence, 29, 718-742. 
    Possible differences between childhood-limited antisocial youths and their stable high-antisocial counterparts were examined. Children were 11 years old at wave 1 (T1) and 13.5 at wave 2 (T2). At both waves the same parent, teacher, and self-reports of antisocial behavior were used. Stable highs and childhood-limited antisocial youths differed somewhat in family and individual background. Stable highs had less effortful control, perceived more overprotection, had a higher level of familial vulnerability to externalizing disorder, and lived less often with the same parents throughout their lives than the childhood-limited group. Both groups had similar levels of service use before T1, but after that period the childhood-limited youths received more help from special education needs services than from problem behavior services, and vice versa for stable highs. The results suggest that the childhood-limited antisocial youths recovered not only from antisocial behavior, but also from academic failure, peer rejection, and internalizing problems. 
  • Veenstra, R., Lindenberg, S., Oldehinkel, A.J., De Winter, A.F., Verhulst, F.C., & Ormel, J. (2008). Prosocial and Antisocial Behavior in Preadolescence: Teachers’ and Parents’ Perceptions of the Behavior of Girls and Boys. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 32, 243-251. 
    There has been recent emphasis on the importance of investigating prosocial and antisocial behavior simultaneously owing to doubts about whether examining one automatically gives information about the other. However, there has been little empirical research into this question. The present study (based on a large population sample of preadolescents, N = 2,230) simultaneously examines prosocial and antisocial behavior, explicitly including the possibility that children might show prosocial behavior according to one informant and antisocial behavior according to another. When parents and teachers agreed in their judgments, children were distinctly profiled and differed clearly in effortful control, intelligence, academic performance, and several peer nominations and family characteristics. The correlates were more rater-specific for children that were prosocial according to one informant and antisocial according to the other informant. Teachers and parents used different context-dependent criteria for judging children to be prosocial or antisocial. Academic performance and peer relations were related to the teacher’s judgment of prosocial and antisocial behavior. By contrast, children’s being problematic at home (and thus causing stress for the parents) was related to the parents’ judgment. 
  • Veenstra, R., Lindenberg, S., Zijlstra, B.J.H., De Winter, A.F., Verhulst, F.C., & Ormel, J. (2007). The Dyadic Nature of Bullying and Victimization: Testing a Dual Perspective Theory. Child Development, 78, 1843-1854. 
    For this study, information on who bullies who and by whom are you bullied? was collected from 54 school classes with 918 children (M age =11) and 13,606 dyadic relations. Bullying and victimization were viewed separately from the point of view of the bully and the victim. The two perspectives were highly complementary. The probability of a bully-victim relationship was higher if the bully was more dominant than the victim, and if the victim was more vulnerable than the bully and more rejected by the class. In a bully-victim dyad, boys were more often the bullies. There was no finding of sex effect for victimization. Liking reduced and disliking increased the probability of a bully-victim relationship.
  • Veenstra, R., Lindenberg, S., Oldehinkel, A.J., De Winter, A.F., & Ormel, J. (2006). Temperament, Environment, and Antisocial Behavior in a Population Sample of Preadolescent Boys and GirlsInternational Journal of Behavioral Development, 30, 422-432. 
    Antisocial behavior can be triggered by negative social experiences and individuals’ processing of these experiences. This study focuses on the interaction between temperament, perceived parenting, socio-economic status (SES), and gender in relation to antisocial behavior in a Dutch population sample of preadolescents (N=2230). Perceived parenting (overprotection, rejection, emotional warmth) was assessed by the EMBU (a Swedish acronym for My Memories of Upbringing) for Children, temperament (effortful control and frustration) by the parent version of the Early Adolescent Temperament Questionnaire-Revised, SES by information on parental education, occupation, and income, and antisocial behavior by the Child Behavior Checklist (parent report) and the Youth Self-Report (child report). All parenting and temperament factors were significantly associated with antisocial behavior. SES was only a related to antisocial behavior among children with a low level of effortful control or a high level of frustration. Furthermore, the association of SES and frustration with antisocial behavior was stronger in boys. Thus, the effects of SES depend on the temperament and gender of the child. 
  • Veenstra, R., Lindenberg, S., Oldehinkel, A.J., De Winter, A.F., Verhulst, F.C., & Ormel, J. (2005). Bullying and Victimization in Elementary Schools: A Comparison of Bullies, Victims, Bully/Victims, and Uninvolved PreadolescentsDevelopmental Psychology, 41, 672-682. 
    Research on bullying and victimization largely rests on univariate analyses and on reports from a single informant. Researchers may thus know too little about the simultaneous effects of various independent and dependent variables, and their research may be biased by shared method variance. The database for this Dutch study was large (N = 1,065) and rich enough to allow multivariate analysis and multisource information. In addition, the effect of familial vulnerability for internalizing and externalizing disorders was studied. Gender, aggressiveness, isolation, and dislikability were most strongly related to bullying and victimization. Among the many findings that deviated from or enhanced the univariate knowledge base were that not only victims and bully/victims but bullies as well were disliked and that parenting was unrelated to bullying and victimization once other factors were controlled.