First Advisor

Thomas A. Kindermann

Date of Publication

Fall 1-5-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Systems Science: Psychology


Systems Science




Academic achievement -- Education (Middle school) -- Social aspects -- Case studies, Achievement motivation in children -- Social aspects -- Case studies, Social influence -- Children -- Case studies, Interpersonal relations in children -- Case studies



Physical Description

1 online resource (xvii, 198 pages)


The school environment is one of the primary contexts for children's social, emotional and cognitive development. While teachers are likely to be primarily focused on students' motivation and learning, for adolescents, one of the most enjoyable and important aspects of school life is likely to be centered around the time spent interacting with peers. It is well recognized that peers socialize one another but although many studies have examined the influence of peers on adolescents' risky behaviors far fewer have focused on the influence peers may have on individuals' positive behaviors. As a result this study focuses on academic development replicating previous research designed to examine whether peer group affiliation has an effect on student academic engagement.

A cohort of 343 seventh grade students, primarily Caucasian, 52% male, was followed for a period of one school year. Teachers reported on students' academic engagement in the fall and again in spring using a 14-item scale (Wellborn, 1991), and students reported on their teachers' and parents' involvement in fall using 8- and 4-item scales respectively. Student grades were collected from school administrative records.

To identify individual student's network affiliations socio-cognitive mapping procedures were used (Cairns, Perrin & Cairns, 1985), and then peer group profiles of engagement were calculated based on the average rating of engagement across each individual's affiliates. During the academic year peer group membership turnover was 49%, despite this, the quality of peer group profiles of engagement remained similar from fall to spring. Groups also tended to be and remain motivationally homogenous across the year. In general, girls' networks tended to be more highly engaged than boys' and networks that were more highly engaged tended to be more stable across the year.

Structural equation modeling was used for the major analyses to assess whether peer group academic motivation in the fall could predict individual motivation in the spring. The results indicated that while controlling for individuals' earlier engagement, as well as for processes of group selection and parent and teacher influences, the quality of individuals' peer group engagement in the fall was significantly predictive of students' later engagement in the spring. It should be noted that within the major models academic performance was also strongly related to later engagement. While this study provides further evidence to underscore the importance of the peer group in the socialization of students' academic motivation, particularly when one considers the snowballing effects in motivation this influence may have across a student's entire academic career, it also illustrates the important role performance may play in academic motivation for young adolescents.


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