From February 2017, information about the work of the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow is available and updated on the University of Glasgow website.

Influence of Peers

Humans are intrinsically ‘socially connected’ beings and the development of close friendships, friendship cliques and the wider school ‘peer group ecology’ are critical aspects of most children and young people’s maturing social development, and personal and social identities. Our recent work has demonstrated the strong link between adolescent social identity and a diverse range of health behaviours such as self-injury, substance use, victimisation and violence. For example, teenagers who strongly identify with marginalised youth subcultures (Chavs or Neds) are seven times more likely to regularly experience alcohol-related problems and nearly three times more likely to be physically attacked or hurt. While those who identify as alternative youth are four times more likely to self-injure and six times more likely to attempt suicide, with some evidence of peer contagion.  How universal these peer identity effects are remains unknown. There is also growing recognition of the long-term effect that physical and relational bullying, physical and verbal sexual harassment has on psychological wellbeing and other health behaviours. However, identifying which group of adolescents will develop which type of health problems and which form of victimisation (verbal, physical, cyber) is most harmful remains unclear. The effect of different peer and school ecologies on these forms of violence is also a focus of interest. While the influence of peers fluctuates over the life course, it has a strong effect on many health behaviours, particularly mental health, and interacts with (opposing or reinforcing) family influences. For example, the clash between parents and teenagers about their choice of style, music and ‘inappropriate’ peers and/or boy/girlfriends is widely recognised in popular culture..

This theme develops on past and continuing work from the Youth and Health Team investigating how peer relationships shape psychosocial development, health behaviours and mental health, and how peer relationships interact with the co-influence of family, school and media. Our broad objectives are to:

1) Describe the structure and nature (composition, characteristics, social status, health and health-related behaviours) of young people’s peer groups.

2) Investigate how children and young people’s friendships, peer groups and youth (sub)cultural identities influence health: particularly mental health, victimisation and health-related behaviours.

3) Explore how peer influences on health interact with, and are shaped or modified by, other major social and contextual factors, particularly family, school and mass media influences..



Kelly T, McCafferty E, Metcalfe J, Petrie G, van Beinum M, Young R. Evaluating the Glasgow adolescent self-harm service: a seven-year retrospective investigation: Executive Summary. Scottish Executive Health Department, Chief Scientist's Office, Edinburgh, 2012

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Young R. Can Neds (or Chavs) be non-delinquent, educated or even middle class? Contrasting empirical findings with cultural stereotypes. Sociology 2012;46:1140-1160

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Sweeting H, West P, Young R, Kelly S. Dimensions of adolescent subjective social status within the school community: description and correlates. Journal of Adolescence 2011;34:493-504

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Young R, McCafferty E, Metcalfe J, van Beinum MA. Evaluating the Glasgow adolescent self-harm service: a seven-year retrospective investigation: Final Report. Glasgow, 2011

Young R, McDonald-Smith L. Lisbeth Salander and the ‘Truth’ about Goths. In: Rosenberg R, editor The psychology of the girl with the dragon tattoo. Dallas: Benbella Books, 2011:9-29.

Young R, Riordan V, Stark C. Perinatal and psychosocial circumstances and risk of attempted suicide, non-suicidal self-injury and psychiatric services use: a longitudinal study of young people. BMC Public Health 2011;11:875

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Young R, Sweeting H, Ellaway A. Do schools differ in suicide risk? The influence of school and neighbourhood on attempted suicide, suicidal ideation and self-harm among secondary school pupils. BMC Public Health 2011;11:874

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West P, Sweeting H, Young R, Kelly S. The relative importance of family socioeconomic status and school-based peer hierarchies for morning cortisol in youth: an exploratory study. Social Science & Medicine 2010;70:1246-53

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Young R. Trauma, attempted suicide and morning cortisol in a community sample of adolescents. Journal of Traumatic Stress 2010;23:288–291

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Young R. Young people and self-harm 2007 [podcast]. Raj Persaud talks to series 2007


Pearson M, Sweeting H, West P, Young R, Gordon J, Turner J. Adolescent substance use in different social and peer contexts: a social network analysis. Drugs: Education, Prevention, and Policy 2006;13:519-536

Sweeting H, Young R, West P, Der G. Peer victimization and depression in early-mid adolescence: A longitudinal study. British Journal of Educational Psychology 2006;76:577-594


Turner K, West P, Young R, Gordon J, Sweeting H. Could the peer group explain school differences in pupil smoking rates?. Social Science & Medicine 2006;62:2513-2525


Young R, Sweeting H, West P. Prevalence of deliberate self harm and attempted suicide within contemporary Goth youth subculture: longitudinal cohort study. BMJ 2006;332:1058-1061

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Turner K, Gordon J, Young R. Cigarette access and pupil smoking rates: a circular relationship. Health Promotion International 2004;19:428-436

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Young R, Sweeting H. Adolescent bullying, relationships, psychological well-being, and gender-atypical behavior: a gender diagnosticity approach. Sex Roles 2004;50:525-537

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