Friendship Dynamics in Perceived Popularity: Effects of Peer Defender Role

Ana Bravo Castillo, Rosario Ortega Ruíz, René Veenstra, Maaike Claudine Engels, Eva María Romera Félix


During childhood and adolescence, friendship is one of the most relevant interactions in terms of students’ psychological and emotional development. When children move into adolescence, popularity goals become increasingly important and could involve their friendship interactions. Previous research highlights that friendship and popularity are relevant variables associated to bullying roles. Students who defend victims could have different characteristics in their friendship dynamics and levels of popularity compared to their non-defend peers. To find keys about how the friendship dynamic of defenders is and how it can vary depending on school level could help to adjust programs to prevent bullying, being that defenders is one of the most important roles to reduce bullying involvement. This study investigated friendship selection and influence regarding perceived popularity and examined the effects of peer defenders. Using longitudinal social network analysis (RSiena), we analyzed a total of 1,462 students (Mage = 13.04 years at wave 1; 47% girls) in 56 classes (13 classes in primary school, 22 classes in lower secondary school, and 20 classes in upper secondary school). Results showed that only students in secondary school chose peers as friends who were similar in popularity. In all grade levels, friends became more similar in their popularity over time. Students did not select each other as friends based on peer defender role. However, during lower secondary school, students who were perceived as defenders increased more in their popularity than those who were not perceived as defenders. These results highlight the relevance of friendship social network of defenders, mainly in lower secondary level, where adolescent tend to perceive as popular behaviors of defending. This study support the idea that defending behaviors could be perceived by some students as a way to promote their popularity, being a prosocial alternative to aggressive behaviors.

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