Examining Perceptions of Peer Delinquency in Friendships of Different Gender Structure

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Peer delinquency is nearly always operationalized with an individual's perceptions of his/her peers' behavior rather than the peers' actual behavior. A criticism of these measures is that there is often a discrepancy between the perception of peer behavior and actual peer behavior. The mechanism that is most often discussed regarding the reason underlying misperceptions is ‘projection,’ or the situation when one respondent uses his/her deviant behavior to describe the behavior of his/her friends. Using data from a large sample of friendship pairs in emerging adulthood, we employ self-reported and perceptual measures of substance use to determine how the gender structure of friendship dyads affects the construction of perceptions of a peer's substance use. We examine the projection hypothesis generally, but our specific interest lies in how both the gender of the respondent and the gender composition of the dyad affect the cognitive perception of a close friend's use of drugs. Results indicate that perceptions vary greatly across friendships of different gender structures, and those in split gender friendships generate perceptions that most closely reflect the peer's actual use patterns.