Natural Peer Leaders as Substance Use Prevention Agents: the Teens' Life Choice Project.
In adolescent social groups, natural peer leaders have been found to engage in more frequent experimentation with substance use and to possess disproportionate power to affect the behavior and social choices of their associated peer followers. In the current exploratory study, we used sociometrics and social cognitive mapping to identify natural leaders of cliques in a seventh grade population and invited the leaders to develop anti-drug presentations for an audience of younger peers. The program employed social-psychological approaches directed at having leaders proceed from extrinsic inducements to intrinsic identification with their persuasive products in the context of the group intervention process. The goals of the intervention were to induce substance resistant self-persuasion in the leaders and to produce a spread of this resistance effect to their peer followers. To test the intervention, we compared the substance use behaviors of the selected leaders and their peers to a control cohort. The study found preliminary support that the intervention produced changes in the substance use behavior among the leaders who participated in the intervention, but did not detect a spread to non-leader peers in the short term. This descriptive study speaks to the plausibility of employing self-persuasion paradigms to bring about change in high-risk behaviors among highly central adolescents. In addition, it highlights the viability of applying social psychological principles to prevention work and calls for more research in this area.
Golonka, MM; Peairs, KF; Malone, PS; Grimes, CL; Costanzo, PR
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