A sense of group belonging is a psychological construct (Kiesner, Cardinu, Poulin, & Bucci, 2002; Stone & Brown, 1999). Adolescents participate in a complex social environment populated by many friendship groups, cliques, and crowds. The desire to belong to a group may influence an adolescent's behavior well before he or she is actually a member of the group. Individuals may change their behavior in order to gain peer acceptance. Thus, one's peer group affiliation does not need to be reciprocated in order to influence behavior. Research with adolescents supports the relevance of group belonging for positive adjustment. Closeness in peer relationships is positively correlated with popularity and good social reputation (Cauce, 1986), self-esteem (McGuire & Weisz, 1982), and psychosocial adjustment (Buhrmester, 1990).
Three Components of Peer Group Membership
The literature suggests that there are at least three different ways to assess adolescents' perceptions of group membership. One is to ask adolescents about whether they belong to a group, often with a request to name the group or to identify themselves as a member of one or more groups in their social environment. This approach captures an adolescent's self-perception of group affiliation (Turner, 1987; Urberg, 1992; Prinstein & LeGreca, 2002). Adolescent identity development is thought to emerge within the context of these self-reported group affiliations. These self-reports do not need to be reciprocated in order to be valid indicators of the influence that such a group affiliation might have on an adolescent (Aloise-Yqung, Graham, & Hansen, 1994).
Second, among the cognitive, affective, and behavioral aspects of group membership, research has found that the affective nature of a sense of group belonging is the most internally consistent (Hinkle, Taylor, Fox-Cardamone, & Crook, 1989; Pombeni, Kirchler, & Palmonari, 1990). The affective aspect of group belonging includes feelings of being a valued group member, and being proud of one's group. This is similar to the dimension of quality in a friendship as measured by Parker and Asher (1993).
A third approach is to find out how important it is for an adolescent to be a member of a peer group. Not all adolescents are equally concerned about being a member of a group. Feelings of social distress are greatest for those adolescents who strongly desire group membership and do not experience a sense of group belonging. These are the adolescents who are likely to report the most behavior problems (Baumeister & Leary, 1995).
Gender, Peer Group Membership, and Behavior Problems
Given that a sense of belonging is important for adolescent well-being, some research has shown that adolescent girls value group membership more than do boys (Brown et al., 1986; Brown & Lohr, 1987) and are more highly identified with their peer groups than are boys (Kiesner et al., 2002). Adolescent girls have a greater number of friends than do boys, they expect and desire more nurturing behavior from their friends, and experience more empathy, more self-disclosure, and less overt hostility in their friendships than do boys (Galambos, 2004; Cairns, Leung, Buchanan, & Cairns, 1995; Windle, 1994). Boys' friendships tend to be less intimate and more activity based than girls' friendships (Hart & Thompson, 1997). Research shows that girls tend to use ruminative coping more than do boys, a style that involves per-severating on unpleasant situations and the negative feelings associated with problems (Rose, 2002; Nolen-Hoeksema & Girgus, 1994), and that they engage more in co-rumination, making them more vulnerable to the distress of their friends. Thus, while boys may not benefit as much as girls from the feelings of belonging that are a product of close, enduring friendships, boys are also less vulnerable to the emotional distress that is likely to accompany high levels of disclosure and co-rumination.
Gender differences have been consistently observed with respect to internalizing and externalizing behavior problems with girls reporting more internalizing problems, especially depression, and boys reporting more externalizing problems, especially aggression and delinquency (Graber, 2004; Farrington, 2004; Beam et al., 2002; Leadbeater et al., 1999; Nolen-Hoeksema & Girgus, 1994).
Participation in the social world of adolescent peer relationships can have its costs as well as benefits. Social exclusion has been systematically associated with problems in adjustment. Social exclusion refers to the perception of being excluded from desired relationships or devalued by valued relationship partners or groups (MacDonald & Leary, 2005, p. 202). Social pain is distressing to the extent that the social bond being threatened is considered valuable and the separation is perceived as undesirable. Research suggests that unwanted social exclusion is an important correlate of anxiety and depression (Baumeister & Tice, 1990; Gray & McNaughton, 2000). In a series of experiments, Baumeister, DeWall, Ciarocco, and Twenge (2005) demonstrated that social rejection caused declines in self-regulation. Those who received information that no one in their group wanted to work with them were more likely to eat more snack foods, give up sooner on frustrating tasks, and have a harder time paying attention in dichotic listening tasks. The studies support the view that social rejection undermines a person's sense of purpose.
Research on rejected youth suggests that social exclusion has far-reaching social consequences. In certain peer environments, the high status or popular groups may actively create conditions of fear and inferiority for certain low-status adolescents (Crick et al., 2001; Kinney, 1993). They use such relational aggression as teasing, obvious snubbing, and gossip to enforce social exclusion (Adler & Adler, 1998). New members of the high status groups are socialized to use these mechanisms to enforce rejection of the low status adolescents. Students who are not yet targeted as outsiders are reluctant to interact with the rejected youth in fear that they will also become targets of group hostility.
It is not uncommon for adolescents to define certain dyadic relationships based on mutual animosity and rejection (Brown, 2004; Abecassis et al., 2002). Certain individuals actively dislike, reject, and avoid others. The peer group comes to recognize these antagonistic relationships and promotes them through exclusion, taking sides, or advancing the negative reputation of one member of the dyad.
Youth who are not well-liked by peers have fewer options for friendships and group membership. Those rejected youth who continue to seek group membership tend to be part of smaller cliques comprised of other rejected youths. In comparison to aggressive youths, who often find a place within a friendship group, withdrawn-rejected youths have the greatest difficulty finding supportive friendships and the greatest likelihood of being victimized by peers (Bagwell, Coie, Terry, & Lochman, 2000; Goldbaum, Craig, Pepler, & Connolly, 2003). This makes it difficult for them to learn and practice effective social skills within peer relationships so that their social standing within the larger peer group could improve. Perhaps this explains why rejected peer status is more stable than other sociometric categories (Brown, 2004, p. 382).
The literature suggests that peer group membership may have both positive and negative associations with behavior problems. Peer group affiliation may reduce the tendency to develop internalizing problems such as anxiety and depression by providing a sense of security and peer acceptance. Peer groups may also have norms against the expression of delinquent, aggressive or risky behavior, which could reduce the expression of externalizing problems. At the same time, some peer affiliations may encourage the expression of externalizing problems, especially antisocial behavior. Some peer groups are characterized by power struggles and hostile interactions or co-rumination that could promote internalizing problems. Although peer group membership may be associated with some behavior problems, it is our contention that lack of a sense of peer group belonging places adolescents at greater risk for both internalizing and externalizing problems than does peer group membership. This is because of the central role of a sense of group belonging for sustaining well-being in the expanding social world of adolescence and the especially unique sensitivity to social exclusion that characterizes this period of life.
- Newman, Barbara M., Lohman, Brenda J., Newman, Philip R., Peer Group Membership And A Sense Of Belonging: Their Relationship To Adolescent Behavior Problems. Adolescence, Summer2007, Vol. 42, Issue 166
Reflection Exercise #10
The preceding section contained information regarding the effects of exclusion on teens victimized by cliques. Write three case study examples
regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.
In what three areas did the study by Baumeister demonstrate that social rejection caused declines in self-regulation? Record the letter of the correct answer the