Friendship and Violence in Adolescence

Research question/goal: 

The project "Friendship and Violence in Adolescence" focuses on the development of violent delinquency in adolescence. Specifically, it aims at a deeper understanding of its action-theoretic determinants and the role of social networks. Previous research has identified agreement to violence-legitimizing norms and friendships with delinquent peers as two major correlates of youth violence. However, little is known about how such norms interact with other determinants of violence (e.g., incentives, opportunities, or self-control), how this interplay of action-theoretic determinants is embedded and unfolds in different peer groups, and how exactly peers become relevant through processes of social influence and selection. We use integrative theories of action (Wikström’s Situational Action Theory of Crime Causation and the Model of Frame Selection by Esser and Kroneberg) and longitudinal models for the co-evolution of networks and behaviour to examine the mechanisms that underlie youth violence. The empirical basis of the project consists of a large-scale school-based panel study among students in five cities of the Ruhr area.

The project was initiated at the MZES and the fieldwork started while the project was located there. Since April 2015, the project continues at the Institute of Sociology and Social Psychology (ISS) at the University of Cologne. Wave one (approx. 2,600 seventh graders in 122 school classes) and wave two (approx. 2,800 eighth graders in 129 school classes) were conducted during our time at the MZES, waves three (nine graders, ongoing) and four (tenth graders, planned for 2016) are directed from the ISS.

First analyses show that the distribution of violence-legitimizing norms in school classes affects how adolescents respond to provocations of varying strength. The results support a dual-process view of youth violence according to which some adolescents engage in violence strategically in response to peer pressure, whereas others act spontaneously based on strongly internalized violence-legitimizing norms. Other analyses yield new insights into how self-control and risk-affinity moderate the relationship between subjective sensitivity to provocation and past violent behaviour (Schulz 2015, Journal of Quantitative Criminology).

As the project is an ongoing panel study, most of the analyses (especially the longitudinal analyses of complete networks) will be done in the years to come. Given that adolescence is an important developmental phase for peer relationships as well as for normative beliefs and behaviour, the project promises to yield insights that could also be helpful to improve measures of prevention and intervention.

Fact sheet

2010 to 2015
Data Sources: 
Primary data collection
Geographic Space: 



Kroneberg, Clemens (2011): Die Erklärung sozialen Handelns. Grundlagen und Anwendung einer integrativen Theorie. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag. [Neue Bibliothek der Sozialwissenschaften] more