Assessing And Explaining Misperceptions Of Peer Delinquency

Jacob Young, J. C. Barnes, Ryan C. Meldrum, Frank M. Weerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


Peer delinquency is a robust correlate of delinquent and criminal behavior. However, debate continues to surround the proper measurement of peer delinquency. Recent research suggests that some respondents are likely to misrepresent their peers' involvement in delinquency when asked in survey questionnaires, drawing into question the traditional (i.e., perceptual) measurement of peer delinquency. Research also has shown that direct measures of peer delinquency (e.g., measures obtained via networking methods such as Add Health), as compared with perceptual measures, differentially correlate with key theoretical variables (e.g., respondent delinquency and respondent self-control), raising the question of whether misperception of peer delinquency is systematic and can be predicted. Almost no research, however, has focused on this issue. This study, therefore, provides detailed information on respondents' misperceptions of peer behavior and investigates whether individual characteristics, the amount of time spent with peers, and peer network properties predict these misperceptions. Findings indicated that 1) some individuals-to varying degrees-misperceived the delinquent behavior of their peers; 2) self-control and self-reported delinquency predicted misperception; 3) respondents occupying densely populated peer networks were less likely to misperceive their peers' delinquent involvement; and 4) peers who occupy networks in which individuals spend a lot of time together were more likely to misperceive peer delinquency. Implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)599-630
Number of pages32
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2011


  • Delinquent peers
  • Measurement
  • Self-control
  • Social networks
  • Theory testing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


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