Teens influenced by peers' gross sex, drugs misperceptions

A new study has indicated that teens overestimate how often their peers participate in risky sexual and drug-related behaviors, and those misperceptions may cause them to adjust their own behaviors to conform to social norms that don't exist.

ANI| Last Updated: Jan 11, 2015, 15:49 PM IST

Washington: A new study has indicated that teens overestimate how often their peers participate in risky sexual and drug-related behaviors, and those misperceptions may cause them to adjust their own behaviors to conform to social norms that don't exist.

The study conducted at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Stanford examined the perceptions and behaviors of 235 10th grade participants at a suburban, middle-income high school.

Senior investigator Mitch Prinstein, John Van Seters Distinguished Professor of Psychology at UNC-Chapel Hill, said that the behavior of all types of kids are grossly misunderstood or misperceived by adolescents, not just the jocks and the popular but also the brains and the burnouts.

According to the study In fact, jocks and popular teen-agers - the two social groups seen as having the greatest potential of influencing others' behaviors - reported levels of sexual and legally deviant behaviors that were not significantly different from either the burnout or brainy groups.

Prinstein said that the results of the study offers bad news for popular peers by demonstrating that they don't party and have sex as much as people think they do.

Researchers found that the increases in substance use that high schoolers reported during the 2.5-year study, for instance increases in cigarette, marijuana, and alcohol use was predicted by their perceptions of what the popular students were doing: That is, those who believed popular peers were engaging in these behaviors more in 9th grade were at higher risk, two years later in 11th grade, of engaging in the same behaviors. Those with higher perceptions of their popular peers' substance use at the outset in 9th grade had steeper increases of their own drug use over time, suggesting that these misperceptions contribute to risk behavior.

The study is published by the American Psychological Association.