First Selection, Then Influence: Developmental Differences in Friendship Dynamics Regarding Academic Achievement

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This study concerns peer selection and influence dynamics in early adolescents’ friendships regarding academic achievement. Using longitudinal social network analysis (RSiena), both selection and influence processes were investigated for students’ average grades and their cluster-specific grades (i.e., language, exact, and social cluster). Data were derived from the SNARE (Social Network Analysis of Risk behavior in Early adolescence) study, using 6 waves (N = 601; Mage = 12.66, 48.9% boys at first wave). Results showed developmental differences between the first and second year of secondary school (seventh and eighth grade). Whereas selection processes were found in the first year on students’ cluster-specific grades, influence processes were found in the second year, on both students’ average and cluster-specific grades. These results suggest that students initially tend to select friends on the basis of similar cluster-based grades (first year), showing that similarity in achievement is attractive for friendships. Especially for low-achieving students, similar-achieving students were highly attractive as friends, whereas they were mostly avoided by high-achieving students. Influence processes on academic achievement take place later on (second year), when students know each other better, indicating that students’ grades become more similar over time in response to their connectedness. Concluding, this study shows the importance of developmental differences and specific school subjects for understanding peer selection and influence processes in adolescents’ academic achievement.

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