Symbolic Boundaries and Peer Influence on Alcohol Use

Stephen Vaisey, Duke, Sociology
Peer influence is a fundamental process in social life. Network scientists generally conceptualize influence as an additive vector of forces, with increasing exposure to the behavior or attitudes of others associated with a greater likelihood of adopting them. Based on cognitive theories of symbolic boundaries, we propose an alternative model that regards peer influence as conditional on membership in the same symbolic group. We test this model with data from two large, nationally-representative datasets and find that, for religious adolescents, having a co-religious tie who also drinks is more strongly predictive of drinking behavior than exposure alone. Although the results do not clearly indicate a causal relationship, they are consistent with the idea that, at least for some behaviors, peer influence can be modeled as the violation of symbolic group boundaries.
November, 9 2015 | 12:30 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. | 230E Gross Hall

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