What do Alternative Measures of Peer Behavior Tell Us? Examining the Discriminant Validity of Multiple Methods of Measuring Peer Deviance and the Implications for Etiological Models

Jacob Young, Cesar J. Rebellon, J. C. Barnes, Frank M. Weerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

22 Scopus citations


Deviant behavior tends to be more strongly correlated with respondents’ perceptions of peer deviance than with actual peer deviance. However, research has yet to discern between two interpretations of this finding. On one hand, respondent perceptions of peer deviance may simply be “biased” indicators of actual peer behavior or alternative measures of one’s own deviance. On the other, respondent perceptions and actual peer deviance may reflect fundamentally separate constructs. The present study uses two separate statistical methods to discern the empirical validity of each interpretation. It then illustrates the importance of the measurement results with a series of cross-lagged panel analyses assessing how a researcher’s operationalization of peer deviance impinges upon conclusions about the bidirectional relationship between personal and peer deviance. Measurement results across two separate behavioral domains (property crime and substance use) suggest that actual peer deviance items reflect a construct fundamentally separate from both personal and perceived peer deviance. Likewise, results fail to support the claim that peer deviance items are simply alternative measures of one’s own deviance. Cross-lagged structural equation results are consistent with the notion that personal deviance affects both later perceptions of peer deviance and actual peer deviance. Yet, null or very weak effects of either peer deviance measure on personal deviance are observed. In light of our findings, we discuss the necessity for new theorizing concerning the complex relations among personal behavior, perceived peer behavior, and actual peer behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)626-652
Number of pages27
JournalJustice Quarterly
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 4 2015



  • peers
  • social networks
  • validity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law
  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine

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