New Study Examines Depression Socialization in Adolescents

Peer pressure is a strong influence for adolescents. But until now, no research has been conducted to determine what effects sadness and depression have within a social group. Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands, collaborated on a study to identify how depressive symptoms within a peer group increase the risk of depression for group mates. “Specifically, we examine the tendency for youths’ depressive symptom levels to become more similar to fellow peer group members’ symptom levels over time, a phenomenon known as depression socialization,” said the team.

There is a vast amount of research that suggests that adolescence provides an especially vulnerable period for peers to conform and be susceptible to influences within their social group. The researchers noted, “Indeed, peer influence effects have been demonstrated remarkably consistently for child and adolescent externalizing and health risk behaviors, such as aggression, alcohol and substance use.” The researchers examined 648 adolescents between the ages of 10 and 13, using the Children’s Depression Inventory. The children were assessed at baseline and again one year after. They were asked to report their own symptoms of sadness and depression, and the members of their close friendship group were asked to do the same. “Results supported the existence of a depression socialization effect whereby average levels of depressive symptoms in the friendship group predicted youths’ own depressive symptoms over time,” said the team. “It is important to note that this result held even when controlling for youths’ initial depressive symptoms, indicating a unique socialization effect above and beyond the possible influences of friendship selection processes.” The researchers believe these findings are important for peer situations, but more studies need to be done. They added, “This result suggests a need for further research to examine the effects of symptomatic improvement in one group member on other youth in the peer group.”

Conway, C. C., Rancourt, D., Adelman, C. B., Burk, W. J., & Prinstein, M. J. (2011, August 15). Depression Socialization Within Friendship Groups at the Transition to Adolescence: The Roles of Gender and Group Centrality as Moderators of Peer Influence. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024779

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • Emmy


    August 18th, 2011 at 12:27 PM

    They feed off of each other. Where one goes the rest are sure to follow.

  • Tim Laker

    Tim Laker

    August 18th, 2011 at 7:16 PM

    Wow that is surprising! I never thought teens would connect so deeply with peers that they even go on to share depressive thoughts!

    But if the bonding can result in negative thoughts being shared,then what about positive thoughts? :)

  • Henry OA

    Henry OA

    August 19th, 2011 at 12:16 PM

    Depression is very easy to spread.It takes just one depressed person in a group to make it gloomy.It’s almost like an infection that goes to other people so easily!

  • Ginnie


    August 19th, 2011 at 10:44 PM

    So what do you all think that the answer is? It’s not like you can keep them from hanging around with their friends? That is surely not the answer that we are looking for.



    September 25th, 2011 at 4:15 PM

    Your mood and personality, just like depression, are reflected by the people you spend most of your time with. This is why basic wisdom suggests to surround yourself with people smarter than yourself. Depression spreading to others doesn’t surprise me. It’s the reason I try to limit my time with depressed people. If they aren’t interested in brighting up their mood, I’m not interested in hanging out with them. I suggest that others do the same, these pessimistic, defeatist attitudes brought on by depression are contagious. Before you know it you’ll catch it too. I’ve seen it before with friends many times and know how bad it can be.

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