The Causal Impact of Exposure to Deviant Peers: An Experimental Investigation

Ray Paternoster, Jean M. McGloin, Holly Nguyen, Kyle J. Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Objectives: This study addresses the enduring question about whether exposure to deviant peers causes individuals to engage in deviance. Ample literature comments on this point, but methodological limitations prevent strong conclusions about causality. Method: The authors conducted a laboratory-based experiment under the guise of a memory/recall study for which participants could earn up to $20. All 91 participants had the opportunity to cheat on a computer-based word recall task by clicking on up to four links that provided access to the words in order to illegitimately earn more money for their performance. In the treatment condition (n = 47), subjects were exposed to a confederate who indicated an intention to cheat, justified this behavior, and cheated on the task. Results: Whereas none of the participants in the control condition cheated on this task, 38 percent of the participants in the treatment condition did. This effect endures when controlling for various attributes of participants in regression models. Supplemental analyses underscore the notion that clicking on the links reflected cheating rather than curiosity. Conclusions: This experiment provides evidence that exposure to a deviant peer can cause individuals to engage in deviance. Future experimental work should focus on determining the precise mechanism/mechanisms responsible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)476-503
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Research in Crime and Delinquency
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology


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