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FAMILY JUSTICE APPRAISALS AND INVOLVEMENT WITH DEVIANT PEERS
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF SCIENCE
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
I would like to thank my mentor, Dr. Mark Fondacaro, for his constant support and
encouragement. I would also like to thank Dr. Ken Rice and Dr. Scott Miller for sharing
their ideas and expertise while serving on my supervisory committee. I thank the many
researchers who assisted in the design and implementation of the National Middle School
Survey and the students who participated. Finally, I would like to thank my family and
friends for supporting me through this process.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iii
LIST OF TABLES ............. ................... .. .......... .................................... vi
F IG U R E L IS T ................................................................................................................... v ii
ABSTRACT .................................................. ................. viii
1 IN TR O D U C T IO N ........ .. ......................................... ..........................................1.
Patterns of Juvenile D delinquency ........................................................2......
R isk Factors ...................................................................................... . 3
D eviant Peer Group Involvem ent .......................................................4......
Peer R ejection ................................................................................ . .................6
Parenting Practices......................... ........... ...............................9
Procedural Justice .................................................................................................. 11
M odels of Delinquency Developm ent.................................................... 15
N national M iddle School Survey............................................................. ............... 17
Present Study .............. ..................................................................... ......17
2 M E T H O D ...................................................................................................................1 9
P participants .............. ....................................................................... . ......19
M ateria ls .......................................... .................................................. ...............2 0
Fam ily D decision M making Q questionnaire .............................................................. 20
Life Stressors and Social Resources Inventory Youth (LISRES-Y).............21
Elliott D eviant A actions by Friends Scale ....................................... ................ 21
P ro c e d u re ................................................................................................................. .. 2 1
3 R E S U L T S ................................................................................................................. .. 2 3
E xploratory F actor A analysis ........................................ ....................... ................ 23
R e g re ssio n ................................................................................................................ .. 2 4
M e d ia tio n ................................................................................................................. ... 2 5
M o d e ra tio n ................................................................................................................ .. 2 6
4 DISCUSSION ........................ ......... ............... 29
L IST O F R E FE R E N C E S .... ......................................................................... ................ 34
BIO GR APH ICAL SK ETCH ...................... .............................................................. 38
LIST OF TABLES
2-1 P articipant characteristics......................................... ........................ ................ 22
3-1 Factor loadings for positively worded procedural justice items ..............................28
3-1 Peer conflict partially mediated the relationship between procedural justice
appraisals and association with deviant peers .................................... ................ 28
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science
FAMILY JUSTICE APPRAISALS AND INVOLVEMENT WITH DEVIANT PEERS
Chair: Mark Fondacaro
Major Department: Psychology
Association with deviant peer groups is one of the strongest proximal correlates to
juvenile delinquency and stems from a variety of causes. Parenting skills and parenting
styles have been identified as factors related to later association with deviant peer groups.
In this study, procedural justice within the family (the way an individual is treated during
the process of resolving a conflict) was examined as one aspect of effective parenting that
may affect early adolescents' association with deviant peers. A shortened version of the
Family Decision Making Questionnaire was factor analyzed, yielding a one factor
solution. A series of regressions then showed that higher scores on the procedural justice
measure were related to lower levels of association with deviant peers, and that this
relationship was partially mediated by measures of peer conflict. Implications of these
findings are discussed.
Juvenile delinquency, defined as any behavior committed by a juvenile that is
outside the realm of parental authority and is therefore subject to legal action, has
garnered a great deal of attention in recent years. In 2002, 2,261,000 juveniles were
arrested. Ninety-two thousand, one hundred sixty of these were for violent crime, such as
aggravated assault, rape, and homicide. These figures indicate that juveniles accounted
for 17% of all arrests and 15% of violent crime arrests during the year (Snyder, 2004).
Data from the 1997 Longitudinal Youth Survey indicate that 25% of youth ages 14
and 15 had used marijuana in the past month and 52% of youth in this age range had used
alcohol. Additionally, 3% of youth ages 12 to 16 had carried a handgun in the previous
month. These rates of prevalence were similar for both urban and rural youth. While the
juvenile share of crime has been decreasing since the early 1990's, these numbers still
provide cause for concern.
While criminal behavior is not limited to juveniles, it is juvenile delinquency that
often seems most alarming to the general public. This is most likely because the majority
of criminal offenders are, in fact teenagers. Studies of young boys have shown that the
majority of individuals who ever become delinquent first exhibit such behavior during
adolescence. However, by age 28, about 85% of former delinquents have stopped
offending. This is consistent with data showing that official rates of crime increase
rapidly during adolescence and peak sharply around age 17 (Moffitt, 1993).
Patterns of Juvenile Delinquency
Research on juvenile delinquency has resulted in the conceptualization of two main
types of delinquency: adolescence-limited and life-course persistent (Moffitt 1993). Life-
course persistent delinquency is found in about 5-6% of individuals. People in this
category display difficult and sometimes "antisocial" temperaments at three to five years
of age or younger (Henry, Caspi, Moffitt, & Silva, 1996). The chronic antisocial
childhood behavior of this small group of individuals is a strong predictor of both violent
and nonviolent offending, especially for boys (Broidy et al., 2003). Children who fit this
sub-type often show characteristics of attention deficit disorder as well as abnormally
high levels of aggression during the preschool years (Loeber & Stouthamer-Loeber,
1998). These individuals often begin committing deviant acts at a young age and this
activity persists well into adulthood. Research has indicated that this behavior is closely
tied to early childhood temperament.
The second sub-type, adolescent-limited delinquency, shows a vastly different
pattern of development. Those who engage in adolescent-limited delinquency do not
necessarily engage in acting-out behavior at an early age. People in this category usually
exhibit fairly normal childhood behavior and begin committing deviant acts around age
11 or 12. The frequency and severity of this behavior peaks around age 16 or 17 and then
diminishes by young adulthood. Unlike life-course persistent delinquency, adolescent-
limited delinquency is alarmingly common and has sometimes been described as
"normal." Estimates vary, but about one third of adolescent males are thought to engage
in some form of delinquent behavior (Moffitt, 1993). Adolescents who exhibit this type
of delinquency seem to have some flexibility in their behavior patterns. They can adapt
their behavior and act in socially appropriate ways when reinforcement contingencies
dictate. Thus, it is thought that this behavior pattern is a result of social influences rather
than biological factors.
Following the rationale that it is the life-course persistent adolescents who commit
the most serious offenses, it could be assumed that those who begin offending during
adolescence engage in less severe behavior than those who begin offending earlier. In a
review of the literature on the development of juvenile aggression, Loeber and
Stouthamer-Loeber (1998) concluded that that was not necessarily the case. Instead, later
onset offenders may show similar characteristics at the time of arrest but differ only in
their past history. Despite the possible appearance of having a less severe problem,
individuals who start offending during adolescence equal their life-course persistent peers
in both the variety of laws broken and number of appearances in juvenile court by age 15.
A plethora of risk factors have been identified for the development of juvenile
delinquency, including residence in low SES neighborhoods (Stouthamer-Loeber,
Loeber, Wei, Farrington, & Wikstrom, 2002), low levels of parental monitoring (Griffin,
Botvin, Scheier, Diaz, & Miller, 2000), low IQ and residential mobility (Hawkins et al.,
2000), gender, family structure (Stouthamer-Loeber et al., 2002), and association with
delinquent peer groups (Elliott & Menard, 1996; Moffitt, 1993). A review of the research
by Hawkins et al. (2000) shows that association with deviant peer groups is one of the
most well-established risk factors across a variety of studies and is the strongest predictor
of violent behavior for youth ages 12 to 14. This risk factor is of particular interest both
because of the large amount of variance it explains in delinquent behavior and because of
the implications it has for intervention and prevention.
Deviant Peer Group Involvement
During adolescence, individuals begin depending less on their families and more on
their peer groups for approval and social validation (Fuligni, Eccles, Barber, & Clements,
2001). As they get older, adolescents spend increased amounts of unsupervised time
with their peers and profess that they consider their friends' opinions to be as important
or more important than their parents' opinions on some issues (Fuligni et al). Given this
opportunity for social influence, it is not surprising that studies have consistently found
association with deviant peer groups to be a strong predictor of delinquent behavior
during adolescence (Hawkins et al., 2000). Elliott, Huizinga, and Ageton (1985) found
that adolescents who were members of deviant peer groups were more likely to engage in
delinquency, regardless of the presence of absence of other risk factors.
The link between deviant peer groups and delinquent behavior is not new. Linden
and Hackler (1973) studied adolescents' attachment to conventional peers, deviant peers,
and parents. Those with high levels of bonding to delinquent peers had the highest rates
of self-reported delinquency. The impact delinquent friends had on adolescents' behavior
was influenced by the level of bonding to parents and conventional peers. Those
adolescents with high levels of bonding to parents and conventional peer groups reported
lower levels of delinquent behavior than others. This evidence stresses the importance of
both peer group selection and family dynamics in predicting later delinquent behavior.
More recently, Fuligni et al. (2001) examined the relationship between peer
orientation, type of peer group, family cohesion, problem behaviors, and academic
achievement. They found that youth with more extreme peer group orientations (those
who viewed their friends as more valuable sources of information and validation than
their parents) reported higher levels of deviant behavior. This effect was largely
determined by the type of peer group involved, with deviant peer groups adding
substantially to the levels of deviant behavior. More specifically, the proportion of
adolescents' friends who consumed alcohol, used drugs, and skipped class strongly
predicted problem behaviors. In line with that finding, Dishion and Owen (2002) found
that the tendency to cluster in peer groups that used substances was the strongest
proximal correlate of adolescent substance use.
This relationship between peer group orientation and deviant behavior is crucial
because peer groups are in a state of constant fluctuation during adolescence. In general,
adolescents move from belonging mainly to prosocial groups early in adolescence to
interacting with more deviant peer groups later in adolescence (Elliott & Menard, 1996).
This fluctuation typically ends in early adulthood, when individuals begin forming
families and the peer group loses some of its influence. The unique contribution of
deviant peer group membership during adolescence is supported by a summary of
literature by Hawkins et al. (2000), who found that having antisocial peers was a strong
predictor of violent behavior for youth ages 12 to 14, but a relatively weak predictor
There are a variety of possible explanations for the relationship between deviant
peers and deviant behavior. Many assume adolescents who engage in deviant behavior
seek out others who engage in similar behavior. The idea that "birds of a feather flock
together" fits well with American society's views of personal control and responsibility
and, on the surface, makes a lot of intuitive sense. According to this common sense view,
it is the delinquent behavior that precedes and may even cause this association with
deviant peers. While this hypothesis has drawn some correlational support, the opposite
interpretation is more likely to be true. Elliott and Menard (1996) found that association
with deviant peers precedes the onset of delinquent behavior in most cases. This pattern
is especially strong when serious offenses are involved. Index offenses (those serious
offenses that would be illegal regardless of the offender's age) almost never occur before
an individual has begun associating with deviant peers.
Once an adolescent begins associating with deviant peer groups, attitudes toward
delinquent behavior are strengthened and delinquent behavior is reinforced (Elliott et al.,
1985; Patterson, Dishion, & Yoerger, 2000; Patterson, Forgatch, Yoerger, & Stoolmiller,
1998). This phenomenon is known as deviancy training and its effects have been
examined from a variety of perspectives. Patterson et al. (2000) found that delinquency
training was the mediating factor between early involvement with deviant peers and later
delinquent behavior. Of the adolescents who associated with deviant peer groups, those
whose peers expressed more positive attitudes toward delinquency and provided more
support for such behavior ultimately engaged in higher levels of delinquency. In a
comprehensive review of relevant studies, Thornberry and Krohn (1997) concluded that
deviant peer group involvement did have a well-established direct influence on deviant
behavior. Furthermore, this relationship appears to be bidirectional. Once an adolescent
begins associating with deviant peers, deviant behavior is strengthened and the adolescent
is more likely to associate with deviant peers in the future. This sets in motion a
downward spiral that makes it difficult to intervene without preventing the initial
movement toward delinquent peer groups.
Since a convincing body of research indicates that deviant peer group involvement
is likely a cause and a maintaining factor of delinquent behavior, it is important to
determine the factors that lead to deviant peer group involvement in the first place.
Recent research has targeted early peer rejection as a motivator for later entrance into
deviant peer groups. Longitudinal data from the Oregon Youth Study (Dishion,
Patterson, Stoolmiller, & Skinner, 1991) show that rejection by the conventional peer
group is one of the most salient predictors of association with deviant peers. In the study,
boys who were rejected at age 10 had higher levels of contact with deviant peers at age
12, regardless of whether the boys had previously displayed antisocial behavior.
Similarly, Coie, Lochman, Terry, and Hyman (1992) found that both aggressive behavior
and peer rejection were significant predictors of disorder in adolescence. Subsequent
analysis revealed that peer rejection had a role in predicting adolescent adjustment that
went above and beyond the effects of the aggression that may have caused the rejection
in the first place. The role of peer rejection in the development of delinquency was also
supported by the research of Krueger et al. (1994). In studying the links between
personality and crime in adolescents, the authors found that youth who reported
participating in the widest variety of criminal behavior also reported low levels of social
cohesion and high levels of alienation. They described themselves as being persecuted
by their peers and as lacking interpersonal closeness.
The powerful effects of peer rejection can be explained in part by recent social
psychological research. Baumeister and Leary (1995) hypothesized that humans are
driven by a fundamental need to belong. Research with adolescents has supported this
idea. Brown and Lohr (1987) found that adolescents who were part of an identifiable
social group (even those social groups with relatively low comparative social status) had
higher self-esteem than adolescents who did not identify with any particular social
cluster. Twenge, Baumeister, Tice, & Stucke (2001) found that individuals who believed
they were being rejected by their peers were more aggressive in experimental trials than
non-rejected participants. This manipulation was unexpectedly powerful and resulted in
increased aggression toward "neutral" bystanders, as well. To explain this set of
findings, Baumeister, DeWall, Ciarocco, and Twenge (2005) proposed that peer rejection
leads to a decrease in self-regulation. In essence, rejected individuals lose motivation to
act in prosocial ways.
There are several ways in which peer rejection could fit into the developmental
trajectory that leads to association with deviant peers and eventually to delinquent
behavior. One possibility is that poor social skills and aggressive and antisocial behavior
lead to peer rejection in children and adolescents, and this rejection is what leads children
to associate with deviant peer groups. Dishion et al. (1991) hypothesized that individuals
will seek out peer groups that maximize social reinforcement for a minimum amount of
effort. According to this view, children and adolescents whose skills do not allow them
to be successful in conventional peer group will seek out groups in which they are
accepted without having to change behaviors. This idea was supported by Cairns, Cairns,
Neckerman, Gest, & Gariepy (1988), who used rating scales, interviews, and peer
nominations to determine social cluster membership and overall popularity of aggressive
and non-aggressive fourth and seventh graders. They found that aggressive subjects were
less popular than non-aggressive subjects but were equally likely to be part of an
identifiable social cluster. Aggressive subjects also tended to belong to social clusters
with one another rather than being mixed in with conventional peer groups. Aggressive
behavior acted as a "sorting feature" in the friendship selection process (Dishion &
Owen, 2002). This suggests that these aggressive subjects were possibly rejected from
conventional peer groups and had affiliated with one another as a way to maximize social
Lack of success in the conventional peer group has been linked to social skills
deficits or aggressive behavior. Researchers have proposed a variety of hypotheses about
the origins of childhood aggressive behavior. Two of the most frequently cited predictors
are the overall level of conflict within the family and ineffective discipline practices. The
relationship between family conflict and childhood adjustment and behavior has gained a
great deal of support within the literature. Jaycox and Repetti (1993) found that
preadolescent children in high conflict families were likely to have poor perceptions of
themselves and display externalizing behaviors at home. Further analysis revealed that
the level of overall family conflict had an effect on behavior above and beyond the
effects of marital discord or aversive parent-child interactions. The potential sources of
family conflict are numerous and include life stressors such as poverty, large family size,
and ineffective parenting practices.
A growing body of research has linked poor or inconsistent parenting practices
with later peer rejection (Dishion, 1990; Patterson, DeBaryshe, & Ramsey, 1989;
Vuchinich, Bank, and Patterson, 1992). Families of children described as "antisocial"
have been found to use harsh and inconsistent discipline (Patterson et al., 1989), while
good discipline has been found to have a positive impact on children's peer relations
(Vuchinich et al., 1992). This relationship is supported by research by Patterson et al.
(1998) who found that disrupted parenting practices accounted for unique variance in
childhood antisocial behavior and its continuity into adolescence. Vuchinich et al. found
that ineffective parenting and poor peer relations helped maintain one another over time.
Correlational evidence suggests that demographic variables and life stressors such as
poverty and marital discord are also risk factors for peer rejection, but these have been
shown to be mediated by the extent to which parenting practices are affected (Dishion,
1990; Patterson et al., 1989). Patterson et al. (1989) proposed a developmental model of
antisocial behavior to explain these relationships. In this model, poor parenting practices
lead to conduct problems, these conduct problems lead to peer rejection, and peer
rejections leads to commitment to deviant peer groups. This model implies that
parent/child interactions may be the starting point for the trajectory that leads to juvenile
Research has also shown that parenting practices may influence the development
of delinquent behavior at various points along the trajectory. Even in the presence of
other risk factors, effective parenting practices have been shown to decrease the
likelihood of adolescents engaging in delinquent acts (Walker-Barnes & Mason, 2004).
In their longitudinal study of ninth grade students, Walker-Barnes and Mason found that
while gang involvement was strongly related to delinquency and substance use, parenting
variables such as behavioral control and parental warmth weakened the relationship.
The impact of the home environment in general, and of parenting skills
specifically, is particularly interesting in adolescent populations, as parent-child
relationships undergo a period of flux at that time (Granic, Hollenstein, Dishion, &
Patterson, 2003). These relationships are characterized by an increasing variety of
exchanges and a greater flexibility in the "repertoire" of interactions. The amount of
flexibility and change peaks around 13 or 14 years of age for boys (Granic et al.).
Research on parenting styles indicates that authoritative parenting (characterized by
maintenance of clear boundaries between moral, conventional, and personal issues and
the allowance of some degree of autonomy on personal issues) helps alleviate the
increased levels of conflict that normally occur during this period (Smetana, 1995). The
effect of parenting style on family functioning increases as adolescents get older and the
demand for personal autonomy increases.
Consistent with the findings that parenting factors play an important role in
adolescent adjustment, a study of sixth grade students recently found that positive
parenting practices, such as parental monitoring, frequent checking of homework, and
eating family meals together were associated with lower levels of delinquent behavior
(Griffin et al., 2000). The authors also found that parenting behaviors affected behavior
outcomes differently for boys than for girls. For instance, eating family meals together
was associated with lower levels of delinquency in girls but not in boys. Frequent
homework checking was also associated with less aggression in girls but not in boys.
These findings suggest that gender may play a moderating role in the effect of the family
environment on behavior during adolescence.
One aspect of the home environment that has recently been tied to adolescent
behavior is conflict resolution. In particular, procedural justice appraisals have been
found to relate to adolescents' feelings about their families, their psychosocial
functioning, and their levels of deviant behavior (Fondacaro, Dunkle, & Pathak, 1998;
Jackson & Fondacaro, 1999). Procedural justice refers to the fairness of the procedures
used to reach a decision, as opposed to the fairness of the decision's outcome. Early
work in the area has shown that people care as much or more about how they are treated
in the process of making a decision or resolving a conflict than they do about the outcome
itself (Thibaut & Walker, 1975; Tyler, 1988). Research in this area has aimed to discover
what aspects of conflict resolution influence a person's subjective assessment of fairness
(Fondacaro, Jackson, & Luescher, 2002; Leventhal, 1980; Thibaut & Walker, 1975; Tyler
& Lind, 1992). A growing body of literature has evolved in the field, defining various
procedural justice constructs as well as establishing their importance in numerous settings
(Fondacaro, Jackson, & Luescher, 2002; Leventhal, 1989; Thibaut & Walker, 1975; Tyler
& Lind, 1992).
The procedural justice literature is rich with theoretical conceptualizations of
procedural justice dimensions, but few of these dimensions have been empirically
validated until recently. Early theoretical work was conducted by Thibaut and Walker
(1975) and emphasized process control and decision control. Leventhal (1980) identified
six different criteria for assessing the fairness of decision-making: consistency, bias
suppression, accuracy, correctibility, representation, and ethicality. In 1989, Tyler
proposed a conceptually-based four factor model composed of neutrality, standing,
control, and trust.
Recently there has been a push toward the development of a more integrated,
comprehensive model of procedural justice. Fondacaro and Jackson began developing
the Family Decision Making Questionnaire and the Family Justice Inventory. Using a
college student population, Jackson and Fondacaro (1999) factor-analyzed items from the
Family Decision Making Questionnaire to test the possibility of Tyler's (1989) four
factor model of procedural justice. They instead found three interpretable factors:
personal respect, status recognition, and instrumental participation. Personal respect was
defined as the amount of respect a person is treated with throughout the decision-making
process. Status recognition refers to the way a person is treated relative to the group.
Process control refers to the amount of influence one is able to exert over the decision-
making process. In a similar study, Fondacaro et al. (2002) identified five distinct
procedural justice factors: personal respect, status recognition, process control,
correction, and trust. These factors have been studied in relationship to individual and
family functioning in a number of studies (Fondacaro et al., 1998; Fondacaro et al.,
Bronfenbrenner's (1979) theory offers an explanation regarding the importance of
procedural justice in the family context. According to this framework, the ideals and
values of the macrosystem (the due process rights of American society) transfer to the
microsystem (in this context, the family). People grow to evaluate fairness in their
everyday surroundings the same way they would evaluate fairness in the legal system.
These ideas make sense in light of behavioral science research. Grusec and Goodnow
(1994) discussed several variables that influence the effectiveness of parental discipline.
Among the variables thought to influence children's acceptance of parental discipline
techniques were the child's judgment that the parents' actions were appropriate based on
the child's misbehavior and the child's judgment of whether due process had been
observed. Acceptance was also influenced by whether the child judged that the parents'
intervention was well-intentioned.
Family functioning has recently been studied in light of procedural justice factors.
Fondacaro et al. (2002) found that procedural justice constructs were more important than
distributive justice constructs in predicting family functioning. Consistent with
expectations, adolescents cared more about how they were treated in the process of
resolving family conflict than they did about the final outcome. Procedural justice
appraisals were significantly related to levels of family conflict and cohesion.
Specifically, personal respect, status recognition, and trust predicted levels of family
conflict. Personal respect, status recognition, correction, and trust predicted levels of
family cohesion. More generally, those adolescents from more cohesive families
reported being treated as more valued members of the family. This supports the idea that
adolescents especially value the way they are treated in dispute resolution when
interacting with in-group members such as their parents.
Recent research has focused on the role of procedural justice appraisals in families
with adolescents. Diamond-Barroso (2003) studied the relationship between procedural
and distributive justice and family functioning in a sample of adolescents between 11 and
18 years of age. Subjecting 54 procedural justice items from the Family Decision
Making Questionnaire to principle components factor analysis resulted in five
interpretable factors: process control, neutrality, personal respect, status recognition, and
correction. Neutrality, personal respect, and status recognition significantly predicted
family conflict while all five procedural justice factors significantly predicted family
cohesion. Results indicated that adolescents' appraisals of procedural justice were more
important than their appraisals of distributive justice in predicting family functioning.
In addition to its relationship with family functioning, procedural justice has also
been linked to deviant behavior (Fondacaro et al., 1998). Fondacaro et al. (1998) studied
this relationship within the framework of Tyler's relational model of procedural justice
and found that those adolescents who reported unfair treatment within the family also
reported higher levels of deviant behavior. Deviant behavior was significantly associated
with less neutral, trustworthy, and respectful treatment by parents. Those adolescents
who reported being treated more fairly by parents engaged in less deviance, even when
gender and background variables were controlled for. Jackson and Fondacaro (1999)
explained some of this effect by suggesting that when decision-making processes are fair
adolescents are taught competent conflict resolution strategies that they can then use
outside the family.
Models of Delinquency Development
Several models have been proposed to explain the role of parenting and peer
variables in the development of delinquent behavior. Moffitt (1993) has put forth a social
mimicry interpretation to explain why individuals begin associating with deviant peer
groups during adolescence. He proposed the existence of a maturity gap during
adolescence, created when individuals reach biological maturity but are still constrained
to childhood roles due to elements of the present social structure. Because individuals
reach biological maturity by the early teen years but do not have the legal rights of
adulthood until years later, adolescents are forced to seek out other ways of asserting
their adult status. Because delinquent behavior can be seen as one way of as one way of
asserting one's autonomy, adolescents are attracted to peers and peer groups who are
engaging in this seemingly "adult-like" behavior and achieving adult goals. According to
this theory, the delinquent behavior is self-reinforcing and tapers off during early
adulthood when the costs outweigh the rewards. Along these lines, the attraction of both
delinquent peers and delinquent behavior is minimized when adolescents do not
experience the maturity gap. This can be accomplished by granting adolescents early
access to adult roles.
Another body of research has targeted parent/child interactions and early peer
rejection as a mediating variable in the development of delinquent behavior. Dishion,
Patterson, and Greisler (1994) proposed a coercion and confluence model to explain the
development of deviant behavior. In this model, inconsistent parenting reinforces
children for coercive and antisocial behavior. These behaviors then spill over into other
settings, such as school and peer relationships. This antisocial behavior inhibits learning
and leads to peer rejection. The failing child then selects social settings that maximize
reinforcement and new forms of deviant behavior emerge within the context of these new
peer relationships. In contrast to the social mimicry interpretation, this model implies
that adolescents will be more likely to seek out deviant peer groups if they first
experience failure in the conventional peer group. This early peer rejection results in an
unfulfilled need for social reinforcement, which adolescents then fill by selecting peer
groups that share their aggressive behaviors or social skills deficits.
More broadly, the development of deviant behavior and association with deviant
peer groups can be understood within the framework proposed by Bronfenbrenner
(1979). According to his theory, individuals interact with a variety of systems in their
daily lives. Microsystems, such as the home and the school, are the settings with which
children directly interact. Behavior learned in one microsystem is often carried over into
another. In this case, behavior learned in the home, in the context of parent-child
relationship, is carried over into the school and used in peer relationships. This causes
rejection, which leads to deviant peer group association. The effect of the home
environment is accentuated in the case of children and adolescents, as they tend to
interact with relatively few systems in their daily lives (Jackson & Fondacaro, 1999).
National Middle School Survey
Recently, Miller et al. (2003) developed and administered a comprehensive,
scientifically based survey instrument designed to identify individual differences in
aggressive behavior and precursors to school violence. Various aspects of adolescents'
experiences were evaluated, including their experiences with important adults in their
lives, their experiences with multiple forms of aggression, their perceptions of their
school environment, their peer relations, and their personal characteristics. Although the
findings of the survey are too numerous to list, several findings were relevant to the topic
Procedural justice measures were included in the study. The dimension of
"personal respect" was found to be a significant predictor of aggressive behavior, with
those adolescents reporting that they were treated with the most respect also engaging in
the least aggressive behavior (e.g., bullying). Appraisals of procedural justice did not
differ significantly by gender, but overall satisfaction with how parents handled family
decisions did decrease with age.
Adolescents' peer relationships were also measured during this study. Consistent
with previous findings, those adolescents who reported the highest levels of involvement
with deviant peer groups also reported higher levels of bullying, fighting, and
delinquency. This characteristic was also correlated with other undesirable outcomes,
such as an unwillingness to report a weapon brought to school by a classmate.
The present study was designed to assess the use of procedural justice appraisals
within the family context as a predictor of deviant peer group involvement. Using data
from the school violence survey administered by Miller et al. (2003), this study explored
the relationships between procedural justice, peer conflict, and deviant peer group
involvement. The study was built on the notion that the way disputes are resolved in the
home environment, as measured by adolescents' appraisals of procedural justice, has an
impact on peer relationships and contributes to association with deviant peer groups.
The specific aims and hypotheses were as follows:
1. This study sought to examine the factor structure of the shortened version of the
Family Decision Making Questionnaire in a large and diverse sample of middle
school students. Because of the exploratory nature of this analysis, no specific
hypotheses could be formed. While it is likely that procedural justice remains a
multidimensional construct for individuals across the lifespan, it is also possible
that it becomes more differentiated with age.
2. Once a factor structure had been established, we aimed to determine whether
procedural justice appraisals in the family context could be used to predict levels of
association with deviant peers. We predicted that higher appraisals of procedural
justice would b related to lower levels of deviant peer group involvement.
3. The third aim of the study was to determine whether peer conflict mediated the
relationship between procedural justice appraisals and deviant peer group
involvement. We predicted that this relationship would be mediated by peer
conflict, based on the established relationships between parenting and peer conflict
and between peer conflict and deviant peer group involvement (Dishion et al.,
1991; Vuchinich et al., 1992).
4. The fourth aim of the study was to determine whether the relationship between
procedural justice appraisals and deviant peer group involvement was moderated by
gender and age. We predicted that this relationship would be moderated by age and
gender based on previous literature showing that the impact of specific parenting
practices differs based on gender and that family relationships and their effects on
adolescent development change with age (Griffin et al., 2000; Smetana, 1995).
Three thousand, two hundred and thirty middle school students completed the
original survey measure as part of a national study on personal, school, and family
characteristics that underlie individual differences in aggressive behavior (Miller et al.,
2003). Participants were recruited from 27 middle schools located in five states: Florida,
Texas, California, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Written parental consent and verbal
assent were obtained from all participants prior to the beginning of the study. Schools
were paid $2 for every completed parental consent form returned.
A subset of the data from this survey was used in all analyses related to this study.
For the current study, data from participants were excluded if they were outside the
traditional age range of middle school students (younger than 11 or older than 14), if they
were missing data related to age, gender, or procedural justice questions, or if they
completed fewer than 80% of the items related to deviant peer involvement or peer
The remaining sample consisted of 1660 students who were demographically
similar to the original sample. As compared to the original sample, participants in the
selected sample were slightly more likely to be female and white, and slightly less likely
to be male, Hispanic, and black. The specific percentages for each demographic category
are listed in Table 1. Even with the selectivity, considerable diversity was maintained
with respect to age, gender, and ethnicity. Approximately 65% of the selected sample
was non-white. Furthermore, the selected sample did not differ significantly from the
nonselected participants on measures of deviant peer group involvement.
The original National Middle School Survey consisted of 228 questions distributed
across 14 scales designed to assess experience with aggression, experience with
important adults, perceptions of the school environment, peer relations, and personality-
oriented psychosocial characteristics. Three of the fourteen scales were used in the
present study: the Family Decision Making Questionnaire, the Elliott Deviant Actions by
Friends Scale, and the "Friends as Sources of Stress" subscale of the Life Stressors and
Social Resources Inventory Youth (LISRES-Y).
Family Decision Making Questionnaire
The Family Decision Making Questionnaire was developed by Mark Fondacaro to
assess adolescents' appraisals of procedural justice during family conflict resolution. The
scale used in this study was shortened from the original version and contained sixteen
procedural justice items and two distributive justice items. The measure requires
participants to write a description of a recent conflict they have had with their parents,
and then rate the extent to which procedural justice concepts were applied to the
situation. The final section of the questionnaire assesses the participants' satisfaction
with the outcome of the situation. Examples of items related to procedural justice
include, "Your parents) treated you with respect," and "Your parents) were truthful to
you." Responses range from 1 "strongly disagree," to 5 "strongly agree." Cronbach's
alpha for this sample was .945.
Life Stressors and Social Resources Inventory Youth (LISRES-Y)
The Life Stressors and Social Resources Inventory Youth (LISRES-Y) was
developed by Moos and Moos (1992) and assesses the stressors and resources in an
adolescent's life. The "Friends as Sources of Stress" subscale was used in these analyses
(alpha = .82). This subscale assesses how often friends cause stress in a student's life.
Items are rated on a five point Likert scale ranging from 1 "never" to 5 "often." Five
items were taken from this measure to form a measure of peer conflict with which to test
the mediational hypothesis.
Elliott Deviant Actions by Friends Scale
This scale assesses the extent to which adolescents' friends engage in deviant
behaviors. The scale consists of 13 items and asks how many of the participants' friends
have engaged in various behaviors within the past year. Examples include cheating on
school tests, using drugs, using alcohol, and stealing something worth more than $50.
Items are rated from 1 "none of them" to 5 "all of them." Cronbach's alpha for this
sample was .94.
Participants completed the surveys in varying sized groups in their regular schools
during regularly scheduled class time. School personnel and research assistants
administered the surveys and students had between 45 minutes and one hour to complete
them. The measures relevant to this study were interspersed among other measures as
part of a larger survey on school violence and individual differences in aggressive
behavior. After completing several items of demographic information, respondents
answered questions about their schools, weapons reporting, delinquent activity and
aggression, and relationships with significant adults. The Family Decision Making
Questionnaire followed these items. Next participants responded to questions related to
individual psychosocial functioning. The Elliott Deviant Actions by Friends Scale and
the two subscales of the LISRES-Y were placed at the end of the survey.
The first aim of the study was examined using a series of exploratory factor
analyses. Further aims were tested using a series of regressions. First, a linear regression
was conducted to determine whether there was a relationship between procedural justice
and deviant peer group involvement. A series of regressions was conducted to test the
mediational hypothesis. Interaction terms were examined to determine whether there was
a moderating effect.
Table 2-1. Participant characteristics
Demographic Category % of original sample % of selected sample
11 13.1 11.3
12 33.1 34.5
13 32.8 34.4
14 19.2 19.8
Male 39.7 38.1*
Female 60.3 61.9*
Asian 3.6 4.1
Black 19.3 17.3*
Hispanic 31.9 30.2*
White 31.4 35.4*
Native American 2.9 2.4
Multiracial 4.8 4.8
Other 6.1 5.9
* Difference is significant atp < .05.
** In the original sample, 1.8% of participants reported ages outside of this range.
Exploratory Factor Analysis
Before performing the factor analysis, all negatively coded items in the Family
Decision Making Questionnaire were recorded to match the rest of the items. (Lower
scores meant lower appraisals of procedural justice.) Although principle components
analysis was used in previous procedural justice studies, principle components analysis
tends to extract one general factor accounting for most of the variance and this study
aimed to identify multiple dimensions of the underlying construct. Because of this, the
sixteen procedural justice items from the Family Decision Making Questionnaire were
first subjected to principle axis factoring without rotation. Before performing the factor
analysis, skewness and kurtosis coefficients were obtained for each item of the Family
Decision Making Questionnaire. Both skewness and kurtosis were between -2 and 2 for
all items. Using Kaiser's rule, suggesting the extraction of factors with eigenvalues
greater than one, two factors were extracted accounting for 61.1% of the variance. The
first factor contained the thirteen positively worded items and accounted for 55.7% of the
variance. The second factor contained the three negatively worded items and accounted
for 5.5% of the variance. Items on this factor showed split loadings with the first factor,
producing a factor that was uninterpretable. Because this solution was so unclear, other
potential solutions were then explored.
Because of theoretical work hypothesizing four factors of procedural justice (Tyler,
1989), a second factor analysis was conducted, this time with promax rotation. Four
factors were requested. Even using the more lenient criteria of a .4 loading, the fourth
factor contained no significant loadings and the third factor contained only one clear
(non-split) loading. Furthermore, all factors were moderately to highly correlated. These
results did not support the existence of a four factor solution.
All analyses containing sixteen items resulted in the three negatively coded items
forming one factor. These three items did not create an interpretable factor.
Furthermore, the inclusion of these items resulted in split loadings among several of the
positively coded items. Because of the possible method related variance involved with
this grouping, another factor analysis was conducted using only the thirteen positively
worded items. This time one factor emerged, accounting for 65.5% of the variance in the
model. All items loaded highly on the factor, as indicated in Table 2. The factor
structure was also examined separately for each of the largest ethnic groups in the
sample: Black, White, and Hispanic. The one factor solution held across groups. Thus, a
one factor model of procedural justice was deemed the most appropriate for the shortened
version of the questionnaire used with a middle school sample. Factor scores were
computed using the regression method and used as a predictor variable in the subsequent
The obtained factor score from the procedural justice measure was used to predict
total scores on the Elliott Deviant Actions by Friends Scale. The resulting regression was
significant, P = -.366, t(1659) = -16.012, p < .001. Procedural justice appraisals
accounted for 13.4% of the variance in deviant peer group association.
Mediation occurs when the relationship between two variables can be accounted for
by a third variable. For instance, if Variable A is related to Variable B, but the
relationship really exists because of an underlying relationship between Variable A and
Variable C and between Variable C and Variable B, Variable C is said to mediate the
relationship between Variable A and Variable B. Full mediation occurs when the
relationship between Variable A and Variable B no longer exists when Variable C is
entered into the model. Partial mediation exists when the strength of the relationship is
significantly reduced but not eliminated.
Peer conflict was investigated as a possible mediator between procedural justice
appraisals and deviant peer group involvement using four regression analyses as outlined
by Baron and Kenny (1986). First, the mediator was regressed on the independent
variable. In this case, peer conflict was regressed on procedural justice, resulting in a
significant relationship, 0 = -.266, t(1659) = -11.232, p < .001. The negative coefficient
indicates that higher appraisals of procedural justice were related to lower levels of peer
Next, the dependent variable was regressed on the mediator. Peer conflict
significantly predicted association with deviant peers, 0 = .266, t(1659) = 11.247, p <
.001. Higher levels of peer conflict were related to higher levels of association with
Next, the dependent variable was regressed on the independent variable. In this
case, procedural justice appraisals significantly predicted association with deviant peers,
P = -.366, t(1659) = -16.012, p <.001. Higher levels of procedural justice were related to
lower levels of deviant peer group association.
Finally, the dependent variable is regressed on both the independent variable and
the mediator to determine whether the effect of the independent variable is reduced when
controlling for the mediator and whether the effect of the mediator remains significant
when controlling for the independent variable. In this case, the effect of procedural
justice on deviant peer group involvement was reduced, 0 = -.318, t(1659) = -13.637, p <
.001. Because this relationship is still significantly different from zero, full mediation
was not supported.
A follow up comparison of the unmediated regression coefficient and the mediated
regression coefficient using the Sobel test was significant, t = -8.038, p < .001, indicating
that the inclusion of peer conflict significantly reduced the relationship between
procedural justice appraisals and deviant peer group involvement. To evaluate the
significance of the indirect effect, the bootstrap method suggested by Preacher and Hayes
(2004) was used. One thousand bootstrap samples were created, yielding a 95%
confidence interval of -.7984 to -.3479. This confidence interval does not contain zero,
indicating that the indirect effect is indeed significant. The result is consistent with the
hypothesis of partial mediation. The relationship between peer conflict and association
with deviant peer groups remained significant when controlling for levels of peer
conflict, 3 = .182, t(1659) = 7.804, p < .001.
According to Baron and Kenny (1986), a moderating relationship is found when the
relationship between two variables changes based on levels of a third variable. Another
way of stating this is that there is an interaction effect between the independent variable
and a third variable. The moderation hypotheses for this study were examined by testing
the interaction effects of procedural justice with age and procedural justice with gender.
The variables of age, gender, and procedural justice appraisals were first centered using
the methodology described by Aiken and West (1991). Interaction terms were then
created between the centered procedural justice term and each of the other centered
The possibility of a moderating relationship was first examined with the variable of
gender. A simultaneous entry multiple regression was conducted using gender,
procedural justice appraisals, and the gender/procedural justice interaction term. There
was a significant main effect of gender, in which boys were more likely to associate with
deviant peers than were girls. After controlling for the main effects of gender and
procedural justice (both significant atp < .001), the interaction term did not explain
significant additional variance, 0 = .031, t(1659) = 1.384, p = .167. Because of this, the
hypothesis that gender moderates the relationship between procedural justice appraisals
and deviant peer group involvement was not supported.
Age was also examined as a possible moderating variable. A simultaneous entry
multiple regression was conducted using age, procedural justice appraisals, and the
age/procedural justice interaction term. There was a significant main effect of age, in
which older students were more likely to associate with deviant peers than were younger
students. After controlling for the main effects of age and procedural justice (both
significant atp < .001), the interaction term did not explain additional variance, 0 = -.007,
t(1659) = -.326, p = .744. Therefore, the hypothesis that age would moderate the
relationship between procedural justice appraisals and deviant peer group involvement
was not supported.
Table 3-1. Factor loadings for positively worded procedural justice items
Your parents handled the situation in a good and proper way
You trust the way your parents handled the situation
Your parents listened to you
Your parents treated you with respect
Your parents treated you as if you were someone really important
You were treated as a valued member of your family
Overall, you were treated fairly
Your parents were equally fair to everyone involved
Your parents were truthful to you
Your parents showed a lot of kindness and understanding
Your parents cared about you as an individual
You had the opportunity to present your side of the story
Any wrong decisions in this situation could be easily corrected
Extraction method: Principle Axis Factoring
Your parents probably gave you less respect than they would have given to other members of the family
Your parents did not pay attention to what you had to say
Your parents treated you worse than others because of your personal characteristics
3 = -.266
3 = -.318
0 for simple regression
3 = .266
Figure 3-1: Peer conflict partially mediated the relationship between procedural justice
appraisals and association with deviant peers.
The purpose of this study was to determine whether procedural justice appraisals in
the family context could predict early adolescents' association with deviant peer groups,
as well as to examine mediating and moderating influences. In order to achieve this goal,
a measure of procedural justice appraisals had to be critically analyzed. Because
previous studies have concluded that procedural justice is a multidimensional construct,
with different dimensions related to different outcomes (Fondacaro et al., 2002; Jackson
& Fondacaro, 1999), it was hypothesized that a factor analysis of the current data would
also yield multiple factors. Instead, only one interpretable factor was extracted
containing the thirteen positively worded items. All items loaded highly on this factor,
indicating that it represented a general procedural justice construct.
The fact that only one interpretable factor emerged can have both methodological
and conceptual implications for future studies. Methodologically, further research should
be done with younger adolescents involving a greater number of procedural justice items.
It is possible that the brevity of the current measure could account for the unexpected
results. However, since this was the first study to examine a large, diverse sample
composed exclusively of younger adolescents, it is also possible that these results
represent a true age difference in conceptualizations of procedural justice and views of
what constitutes fairness. Researchers have tied ideals with the family to ideals within
our larger society, such as the legal system (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Jackson & Fondacaro,
1999). It is possible that the impact of societal ideals increases as children age and
become more acquainted with systems outside the family. It is also possible that, due to
cognitive development, children's and adolescents' perceptions of procedural justice
become more differentiated as they get older and develop more advanced categorization
abilities. Further research on young adolescents should use the previously factor
analyzed measures, and possibly use college students as controls since the largest body of
research has already been done on that population. This would help partition any genuine
age effect from simple method variance.
After examining the factor structure for this measure of procedural justice, factor
scores were used as a predictor in a regression model with deviant peer group
involvement as the dependent variable. As hypothesized, procedural justice appraisals
significantly predicted deviant peer group involvement. As with most social phenomena,
deviant peer group involvement is expected to have multiple determinants. With this in
mind, the 13.4% of the variance explained by procedural justice is substantial. This
result is consistent with the body of research connecting parenting practices with deviant
peer group involvement. The identification of procedural justice as an important aspect
of the family environment is consistent with the recent procedural justice literature
claiming that adolescents place particular importance on the way they are treated during
dispute resolution when interacting with in-group members such as their parents.
The hypothesis that peer conflict would mediate the relationship between
procedural justice appraisals and deviant peer group involvement was supported by the
current study. Peer conflict partially mediated the relationship, meaning that some of the
relationship between procedural justice appraisals and deviant peer group involvement
occurs because procedural justice impacts levels of peer conflict and peer conflict leads
to deviant peer group involvement. In this case, lower appraisals of procedural justice
were related to higher levels of peer conflict, which in turn were related to higher levels
of deviant peer group involvement. This result is consistent with research by Dishion, et
al. (1994) suggesting that parenting practices impact children's behaviors. Results of the
current study support the idea that the way parents resolve conflicts with their adolescents
may in fact relate to the way these adolescents behave in other settings. In turn, this
behavior may impact peer relationships. These poor peer relationships are shown to be
related to deviant peer group involvement and delinquent behavior. It is also important to
note that there still remained a significant direct relationship between procedural justice
appraisals and association with deviant peers even after including peer conflict in the
model. These findings can have important implications for intervention and prevention.
They indicate that the relationships among parenting and peer variables are complex and
that the development of delinquent behavior may involve more than one potential
trajectory. While the data from the current study are not sufficient to determine the
specific causal mechanisms involved, future research could further illuminate the way
conflict resolution is learned within the family and transferred to outside settings.
Because of research showing that adolescents' relationships with their parents
changed with age and that some parenting practices affected girls and boys differently, it
was hypothesized that procedural justice might interact with age and gender in its effect
on deviant peer group association. However, moderating effects of age and gender were
not supported by the current study. The results of the present study indicate that
procedural justice is a more robust construct, affecting early adolescents equally across
ages and genders. This is consistent with the conceptualization that adolescents may
learn concepts of justice from outside of the family and apply these expectations to their
interactions with their parents.
As with any empirical study, the present research has some limitations. As
previously discussed, procedural justice may have been better measured with a more
thorough procedural justice questionnaire. Because only one factor of procedural justice
was identified and used in regression, fine-tuned distinctions due to the changing
emphasis on certain dimensions could not be studied. It is hoped that future research can
examine mediating and moderating influences with a more fine-tuned measurement
instrument. Future studies with a more thorough measurement of this construct could
also use more advanced statistical techniques such as structural equation modeling to
explore the relationships between the relevant latent variables.
The sample for this study, while large and diverse, was unrepresentative of the
population in a few potentially significant ways. For instance, female participants
outnumbered male participants considerably. This difference is not representative of the
schools from which the students came, so the difference is apparently the result of a self-
selection factor. Namely, parents of girls may have been more willing to consent to the
study than parents of boys. The ethnic breakdown of the sample is also slightly
unrepresentative of the population. Asian-Americans, in particular, seem to be
underrepresented and Hispanic-Americans seem to be overrepresented. Further research
would be required to determine whether these ethnic and cultural differences influenced
the generalizability of the study.
Finally, the correlational nature of the study makes it impossible to establish a
causal relationship between the variables of interest. However, this study significantly
adds to the existing literature by establishing general relationships between the relevant
constructs, laying the groundwork for experimental manipulation in the future. This
study helps define a theoretical basis for later work in the area.
Even with its limitations, this study fills a gap in previous literature by pinpointing
specific facets of the parent/child relationship that may affect the trajectory toward
delinquent behavior and by establishing preliminary relationships between parenting and
peer variables. This study also strengthens the relationship between two seemingly
separate lines of research: delinquency prevention and procedural justice and highlights
the importance of future study in the area of family conflict resolution. The results of this
study are consistent with the theoretical framework linking parenting behaviors with peer
relations and peer relations with delinquent behavior. The results of this study confirm
previous findings that adolescents care about the perceived fairness of conflict resolution
procedures used in the home. Furthermore, when adolescents report that their parents use
unfair conflict resolution procedures, they are more likely to also report conflictual peer
relationships. Poor relationships with parents and peers in turn increase the likelihood
that adolescents will associate with deviant peer groups and eventually engage in more
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Jennifer Stuart was born August 8, 1982, in Springfield, MA. She grew up in
Pinellas County, FL, and graduated from Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs
High School in 2000. She earned her Bachelor of Arts from Florida Southern College in
2004 with majors in psychology and special education. Jennifer plans to continue
graduate study at the University of Florida in the areas of counseling psychology and law.