Peer Contagion and Adolescent Depression: The Role of Failure Anticipation

Adolescents are individuals who are mostly affected by mental problems such as depression.  According to the article, several researchers have tried to conduct empirical studies in order to explain the reasons behind the development of depressive symptoms in adolescents (Zalk et al., 2010).   The process at which peers influence each other and result in development of similar depressive symptoms is known as peer contagion. Studies posited that peer depressive symptoms cause a child to have increased negative cognitions and subsequently depressive symptoms. Studies also suggest adolescent girls are more prone to depressive symptoms than boys. The article investigates which gender is affected more by peer depressive symptoms.

Peer Contagion and Depressive Symptoms. Friends always co-ruminate as they commonly encourage “problem talk, rehash issues, speculate about problems, and dwell on negative affect” (Zalk et al., 2010). During co-rumination, peers with depressive symptoms tend to share negative thoughts and emotions that mentally affect other peers. With time the adolescents may also develop similar symptoms of depression.

Mechanisms necessary for peer contagion. Peer contagion is impacted by failure anticipation and the likelihood of failing in one’s future expectations. In this case, the adolescents realize the outcomes of stressful situations that they have to experience at one point in their lives.  This makes an adolescent to try and find solution so as to be successful in the future.  An individual with high expectation could focus on likelihood of his failing in the future.  With time the adolescents feel pressured and self-deprecated. As the progress continues, they get trapped and develop depressive symptoms (Zalk et al., 2010).

Gender influence in failure anticipation. Research have shown that girls are more affected by peer contagion than boys. This means depressive symptoms in girls are higher than in boys because of peer contagion. It is evident that girls’ failure anticipation is more strongly affected by their friends as compared to boys.  Studies describe girls as people who share their emotional problems with their friends more than boys.  There is a likelihood of sharing negative future anticipation and negative attributes that result to psychological problems with time. Also, female adolescents are more emotional than boys, and this affects them when their friendship is affected by negative factors and expectations. As this continues, their thoughts, expectations, and emotions are negatively affected.  According to experimental studies, when girls communicate within their friendship, they developed stress-related hormones and increased when they share emotional problems and failure anticipations (Zalk et al., 2010).

Alternative processes. Homophily and the similarity-attraction theories argue that people with similar values, characters and behaviors have increased predictability which makes them communicate with reduced energy along with positive feelings that show understanding and belongingness. Such these conditions of improved predictability and emotions are signs that positively affect the selection of friends. Therefore, an adolescent chooses friends who have similar depressive symptoms. De-selection process also explains why teenagers chose selects allies with the same depressive symptoms. The author of the article used the theory of social corrosion to exemplify this concept, person with depression do not have social skills required to offer and support closeness. This indicates “lack of satisfaction and even de-selection by the less depressive dyadic partner in the relationship” (Zalk et al., 2010). However, adolescents with similar characteristics are likely to have increased closeness and intimacy as they can understand each other and share their own problems. De-selection and selection should be controlled to create understanding about role of contagion causing depression related problems.

Current studies. In order to understand the mechanism behind peer contagion, adopting social network approach is essential. There are several advantages of social network approach. Firstly, it the only existing method which provides control for the challenging processes of de-selection and selection. Secondly, it has more benefits than dyadic methods as peer contagion can be experimented in youth’s entire social networks (Zalk et al., 2010). Social network approach studies peer contagion different friendship in a contemporary way, and the information they have is utilized as a result. Consequently, a third advantage is displayed as this approach is more accurate than other dyadic methods.

Methods of study.  An empirical study was conducted, and participants from all schools in Swedish city as well as those outside these schools were involved.  This community-based method helped to decrease biases as both students, and non-student adolescents contributed to the study. Annual assessments were carried out in five measurements. For the formation of network to include in the analysis of the data,   researchers started with eight graders that contributed in at least three measurements (Zalk et al., 2010).   For data collection purposes, the participants were provided with questionnaires to fill. In the study various measures were taken, that is, peer nominations, depressive symptoms, and future expectations. For analysis of data, a software application called Simulation Investigation for Empirical Network Analyses was used to examine section and de-selection processes.

Conclusion. Findings indicated adolescents are affected by depressive symptoms of their peers with time. Peer contagion plays a key role in the development of depressive symptoms. Peers with signs of depression can increase cases of adolescent’s failure anticipation. Selection and de-selection process causes the formation of friends among peers with similar depressive symptoms. Depressive symptoms that girls face strongly influence their peers which increases failure in expectations in them resulting in signs of depression among them. In sum, boys less affected by peer contagion than girls.

References

Zalk, M. H. W. V., Kerr, M., Branje, S. J., Stattin, H., & Meeus, W. H. (2010). Peer contagion and adolescent depression: The role of failure anticipation. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 39(6), 837-848.

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