Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Dianna "Annie" Murray-Close


The overall goal of the current study was to determine if perceptions of popular peers' relationally aggressive (PPSRA) and prosocial behaviors (PPSP) were related to engagement in these behaviors in a sample of emerging adults. This study also investigated if these associations were moderated by sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) reactivity to peer stress and gender. Although a significant amount of research suggests that aggressive behaviors can be socialized by peers (e.g., Molano, Jones, Brown, & Aber, 2013), there is a dearth of work that has examined relational forms of aggression that tend to be more salient for females and more positive, prosocial behaviors. Further, given that some research suggests that perceptions about how peers behave, regardless of peers' actual behavior, influences individual behavior (e.g., Song et al., 2012), the current study investigated the impact of perceptions of peer behavior. Additionally, research suggests that some individuals are more susceptible to peer influence than others (e.g., Steinberg & Monahan, 2007). Biological Sensitivity to Context (BSC) has been offered as a potential explanation for this differential susceptibility to peer influence (e.g., Boyce & Ellis, 2005). BSC theory postulates that individuals with a heightened stress response are more malleable to environmental influence, for better or worse; therefore, the interaction between PNS reactivity to stress (measured by respiratory sinus arrhythmia [RSA-R]) and SNS reactivity (measured by skin conductance level [SCL-R]) to a relational stressor was examined as a moderator in the current study. Gender was also examined as a moderator.

200 emerging adults aged 18-23 years (70% female; Mage= 19.04) were recruited from introductory psychology courses at a Northeastern public university. Participants' SCL-R and RSA-R were assessed during a laboratory stress protocol during which they recounted an experience of relational stress. PPSRA, PPSP, and gender were gathered via self-report.

Findings suggest that PPSRA was positively related to self-reported engagement in relational aggression and, similarly, PPSP was positively associated with self-reported engagement in prosocial behavior. However, neither interactions between RSA-R and SCL-R nor gender significantly moderated these relationships. Follow-up analyses indicated PPSP was significantly, negatively related to engagement in relational aggression for males only. Findings suggest that perceptions about the behavior of popular peers do have an important influence on college students' behavior and highlight future directions for research into the factors that may modify this relationship.



Number of Pages

85 p.

Included in

Psychology Commons