Perceived peer and school norm effects on youth antisocial and prosocial behaviours through intergroup contact in Northern Ireland

Shelley McKeown, Laura K. Taylor

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In adolescence, youth spend a high proportion of their time with their peers and in school; it is hardly surprising therefore, that perceptions of peer and school norms have a strong influence on their attitudes and behaviours. These norms, however, do not always influence youth in the same way. Building on past research, the present study examines the role of peer norms and school norms in influencing the quantity and quality of intergroup contact, as well as the impact of such contact on positive and negative intergroup behaviours. Youth (aged 14-16) living in Northern Ireland (N = 466, evenly split by religion and gender) were recruited through their school as part of a two-wave study and completed a series of survey measures including intergroup contact (quality and quantity), norms (peer and school), participation in sectarian antisocial behaviour and outgroup prosocial behaviour. Mediation analysis was conducted in Mplus. Controlling for wave 1 responses on contact and behavioural outcomes, findings demonstrate that more positive peer norms are associated with less participation in antisocial behaviour and more participation in prosocial outgroup behaviours through increased and better quality intergroup contact. Positive school norms were also associated with increased prosocial behaviour, but only though better quality contact. Findings demonstrate the relative importance of peer norms compared to school norms for this age group. The results have implications for school-based interventions that aim to improve intergroup relations, and highlight the importance of peer networks to promote more positive outgroup behaviours in divided societies such as Northern Ireland.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Social Psychology
Early online date16 Apr 2018
Publication statusEarly online date - 16 Apr 2018


  • school norms
  • Northern Ireland
  • intergroup contact
  • peer norms
  • prosocial behaviour
  • antisocial behaviour
  • intergroup conflict
  • youth sectarianism


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