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Symbolic Boundaries Condition the Strength of Peer Influence: The Case of Religion and Alcohol Use

LOCATION: Knox Hall, Room 509

Peer influence is a fundamental process in social life. Network scientists generally conceptualize influence as an additive vector of forces, with increasing exposure to the behavior or attitudes of others associated with a greater likelihood of adopting them. Based on cognitive theories of symbolic boundaries, we propose an alternative model that regards peer influence as conditional on membership in the same symbolic group. We test this model with data from two large, nationally-representative datasets and find that, for religious adolescents, having a co-religious tie who also drinks is much more strongly predictive of drinking behavior than exposure alone. For some behaviors, peer influence should not be understood simply as a function of exposure, but also of the violation of symbolic group boundaries.

Stephen Vaisey is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. The main goal of his research is to understand the structure, origins, and consequences of different moral and political worldviews.  He integrates the insights of sociology, psychology, and the cognitive sciences to figure out where worldviews come from and how they matter for identity and behavior.

Vaisey leads the Measuring Morality project, which seeks to understand how different conceptions of morality fit together and influence politics and other domains of life.