Research Projects

Peer Networks and Depression in Adolescence
One project investigates the relationship between depression and social positions among school peers in adolescence. Connections with peers matter both as relationships with close friends and the larger picture of how individuals fit into the social environment of the school.  I test the different associations between depression and these network processes by capturing global integration, or an individual's embeddedness within the entire network, and local integration, or the density of individuals' friendship ego-networks. Using fixed-effects regression with sociocentric network data on over 200 networks of high school students, I find both global and local integration are significantly related with experiencing depressive symptoms, but that the relationships are significantly influenced by gender and friends' mental health.

Other ongoing work on depression and networks examines the lasting effects of adolescent social networks on mental health. One project, presented at the INSNA Sunbelt conference in 2018, examines if adolescents' positions among peers predict depressive symptoms in emerging adulthood, and if teens' mental health or their friends' mental health moderate these processes. Another project, with fellow graduate student Christina Kamis, extends the question of lasting effects of adolescent social network positions by examining how network positions predict trajectories of depressive symptoms decades later. These projects apply a life-course perspective to understanding adolescence as a critical period for peer attachments and social development that can influence mental health into adulthood.


Self-Harm and Adolescent Peers
One on-going project in this area, available OnlineFirst at the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, establishes baseline associations between network positions, characteristics, and self-cutting. Self-cutting is a form of self-harm, intentional self-inflicted destruction of one's body, an understudied behavior that can indicate serious risks to mental and physical health. Self-cutting is particularly visible and social in nature, as adolescents often learn about specific techniques, discuss antecedents and consequences of harming episodes, or even simultaneously self-harm with friends, yet little is known about the social network positions that precipitate or protect against self-cutting or self-harm in general.

In another project, presented at the American Sociological Association conference in 2018, I expand the examination of social network correlates of self-harm to examine the relationship between self-harm and three different levels of friendship patterns in network data: close friends (ego-networks), peer groups, and positions in the entire network (in this case, a sociocentric grade-school network). This project works to connect theorized mechanisms of self-harm to types of peer relationships and levels of network structure in high school, to examine how different characteristics of network positions interact with friends' self-harm behavior and gender to relate to self-harm..


Network Isolation
My work on network isolation includes two co-authored studies that examine social isolates as a unique challenge to the peer influence paradigm of substance use. Isolation is measured in many different ways in the networks literature, but can be divided into three conceptually distinct dimensions: adolescents who do not name any peers as friends, those who are not named as friends by peers, and those who focus their social energy outside of the school setting.

Copeland, Bartlett, & Fisher, published in Network Science in 2017, examines the co-evolutionary relationship between cigarette use and these three dimensions of network isolation across middle and high school. We use structural equation modeling, specifically an autoregressive latent trajectory model, to measure the reciprocal relationship between sociality and smoking while accounting for trajectories in how both social patterns and smoking change as adolescents age. We find the type of isolation matters for smoking behavior, with only isolation based on not being named as a friend (avoided isolation) associated with decreased smoking over time, while smoking in turn increases subsequent isolation from in-school peers.

Another paper in the Journal of Youth & Adolescence (Copeland, Fisher, Moody, & Feinberg) extends this framework to consider the unique combinations of these isolation dimensions and their association with the use of three separate substances (alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana). Results show adolescents isolated from in-school peers are less likely to use alcohol, while teens simultaneously disengaged from school peers and oriented toward out-of-school friends are more likely to use all three substances. This work indicates integration in the school social environment and access to substances are a key features related to teen substance use.


Peers & Mental Health in Global Context
Another paper, currently under review, examines processes of friendship, stress, and mental health among youth in Saudi Arabia. This project applies the stress-process and proliferation of stress theories to examine how friends' disclosure of depression and self-harm can present a stressor that influences adolescents' suicidal ideation, net of their own depressive symptoms. This relationship between friends' disclosed distress and suicidality is further shaped by integration in key social contexts, with school attachment moderating observed associations.