Universiteit Leiden

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Do birds of a feather really stick together?

Young people choose friends with a similar background, such as ethnicity or behaviour. This is the conclusion drawn by education and child specialist Janna Fortuin. PhD defence 21 April.

Fortuin examined the characteristics or activities on the basis of which school pupils become friends. Do they influence one another in terms of these characteristics or activities? Or is it these characteristics or activities that determine their choice of friends? Fortuin surveyed more than eight hundred pupils from the last year of junior school and the first two years of secondary school. 

'Ethnic background is an example of such a characteristic. Children from different ethnic backgrounds tend not to be friends, and they are less likely to go around with one another,' according to Fortuin. 

The wrong friends

'My research confirms that there is a rational basis for the concern that some parents have about their children making the wrong friends. Pupils who have similar problem behaviour - like lying, getting into arguments with a teacher and bullying - often seek one another out and influence one another. While children who worry a lot or who are shy don't necessarily spend more time togther. My research also showed that similar school performance isn't a factor for making friends.' 

More nuanced image

Fortuin: 'To date the scientific community assumed that young people were enormously influenced by their peers. The question is whether this is always the case. The tools that we have available today give a more nuanced image of the complex dynamics between selection and socialisation in adolescents. It's time we started to look at this more closely.'  

Read the summary of the dissertation ‘Birds of a feather... Selection and Socialization Processes in Youths’ Social Networks.’ (PDF)

Janna Fortuin will defend her PhD on Thursday 21 April 2016 at the Institute of Education and Child at Leiden University. She is currently working at the teacher training department of the University of Amsterdam, where she trains prospective first-grade teachers. She also supervises the research carried out by teachers in continuing education programmes. 

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