How adolescents resist antisocial peer pressure is an important determinant of problem behaviors, yet little is known about how resistance elements—what teens say (tactics) and how they say it (assertiveness)—operate together and relate jointly to problem behaviors. Objective: We examined how assertiveness and tactics relate to problem behaviors in different situations by extending previous research using an innovative virtual reality (VR) paradigm. We hypothesized 1) modest associations between assertiveness and tactics, 2) modest associations between tactics and problem behaviors, and that 3) assertiveness and tactics would independently contribute to problem behaviors after accounting for one another. Method: Late adolescents (n = 264; Mage = 18.17, 46% male) recruited from first-year undergraduate classes reported their antisocial behavior and dating violence perpetration over the past two months. Participants engaged in four peer pressure VR simulations (theft, academic dishonesty, sexual assault, and substance use). VR simulation responses previously coded for assertiveness (Sargent et al., 2020) were newly coded for tactics in the present research. Prior to testing hypotheses, exploratory factor analyses were conducted to examine the extent to which responses operated in situation-specific and trait-like fashions. Results: Factor analyses resulted in removal of one simulation and highlighted situation-specific variance. Accordingly, hypotheses were tested by simulation rather than summed across VR scenes. Tactics and assertiveness were associated (r = .49 to .70) within each simulation (hypothesis 1), and assertiveness and tactics were inconsistently related to problem behavior (r = -.02 to -.38) (hypothesis 2). When assertiveness and tactics were examined simultaneously, only assertiveness uniquely contributed to problem behaviors. Interactive effects with gender emerged in only one simulation focused on marijuana use; among females who exhibited high levels of assertiveness, tactics was related to less dating violence perpetration. Exploratory analyses helped clarify the nature of responses from participants with patterns of nonresistance. Conclusion: Adolescents’ responses to antisocial peer pressure appear influenced by situation-specific variance, such that the tactics used, the degree of assertiveness, and the relation between these components vary based on the situation. Future research should continue to refine how situational factors influence how adolescents resist antisocial peer pressure.

Degree Date

Summer 8-4-2021

Document Type


Degree Name





Ernest Jouriles

Second Advisor

Renee McDonald

Number of Pages




Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License