Research That Matters (January 17 - 20, 2008)
Method: Six items were developed and administered to a multi-ethnic sample of 435 middle school-aged participants in a group-delivered safer sex intervention. Friendship was assessed at baseline and post-intervention, for youth in the experimental intervention and in a control, career exploration, condition. Two-level disaggregated multilevel modeling, in which variation in the individual level data is decomposed into variance components associated with each level of the hierarchical data structure, was used in the analysis of scale items. Exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses were conducted, and correlations of scale scores with theoretically related variables.
Using this scale, we tested three hypotheses about the effect of friendship closeness on the efficacy of an HIV-prevention interveniton: that youth who felt closer to other group members would report more positive change in attitudes, norms, intention and self-efficacy with regard to HIV risk-reducing behaviors; that youth would become more similar to their group-mates over time, and that increased similarity would be more pronounced in groups characterized by a higher degree of friendship closeness.
Results: The items formed a unidimensional scale with high internal consistency. Scale scores were related to other constructs as expected.
Intervention hypotheses were partially borne out. Friendship within the group was positively related to attendance and enjoyment in the control group only. Youth who felt closer to other group members by the end of the intervention had more positive sex norms, and youth who felt closer with other group members perceived lower abstinence self-efficacy at post-test and more negative abstinence norms six months later. Friendly groups were no more likely to converge in their cognitions over time than were less-friendly groups.
Conclusions and Implications: The Friendship Closeness scale is a reliable and valid instrument that has potential for use in adolescent group interventions and for group leader training and facilitation.
The effects of friendliness among group members on the effectiveness of a sexual safety intervention was not all positive. The effect of friendship closeness in increasing positive attitudes toward sex was unanticipated, and may reflect an emerging norm, or even pressure, for having sex as youth become older. In choosing a group setting for an intervention, practitioners should be mindful that group friendship closeness may reinforce age-related trends in attitudes and behaviors, and not always be in the direction desired.