Ghosts from the Past: Consequences of Adolescent Peer Experiences across Contexts and Generations

Watch a quick summary of CAPE on Youtube.

Summer dinner 2020 2
CAPE team 2019/2020 summer dinner with Maria Wiertsema (left), Anna Bosma, Nynke Douma, Charlotte Vrijen, Femma van Dijk, Tina Kretschmer, and Ayla Pollman. We missed Megane Ackermans, who is currently with her family in the US.

Team: CAPE is funded by an ERC Starting Grant awarded in 2017. The core research team consists of Tina Kretschmer (PI), Charlotte Vrijen (Postdoc), and Maria Wiertsema (PhD Student). In 2020/2021, Pien Brouwer and Thea Steder joined the team as Honours students and Marthe de Roo as Research Master trainee. Having written her Bachelor’s thesis in the project last year, Sanne Verhoeff (now at Erasmus University Rotterdam) conducts interviews as student assistant. Finally, Esther Wilthof, Danique Mulder, and Sanne Wijnholds write their Master’s theses in the project this year. We encourage Bachelor- and Masterstudents to get in touch if they are interested in research internships or places to write theses.

Alumni: Nynke Douma (Honours student), now Research Master student at the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences; Megane Ackermans (Research Master student at the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences); Anna Bosma (back in her profession as primary school teacher), Femma van Dijk (now training to become a teacher), Ayla Pollmann (now PhD student at King’s College London), Michelle Spix (now PhD student at Maastricht University)

Funding: European Research Council (ERC) (announcement)

CAPE in the media: University of Groningen announcement, Dagblad van het Noorden announcement and report (in Dutch), Sustainable Society video interview

Background and open questions: Multiple studies have described long-term negative psychological and behavioural consequences when adolescents’ peer relationships are dysfunctional. So far, research on consequences of adolescent peer experiences has focused largely on psychological and behavioural development, neglecting findings from attachment and social learning theory and research that interpersonal experiences can be transmitted across social contexts (e.g., from parent-child to peer context) and across generations, as is the case for parent-child relationship quality and romantic relationship experiences.

In detail, we know that adolescent peer experiences are central to romantic development through providing opportunities to meet dating partners and by enabling young people to develop the skills that are needed to navigate romantic relationships. However, studies thus far focused on a limited set of romantic relationship facets and rarely covered both adolescence and early adulthood. Neither have other adult relationships – such as friendships – been studied systematically, although it is highly likely that adolescent peer experiences are important precursors of adult friendships.

Moreover, traits, behaviours, and relationship experiences are partially passed on from one generation to the next. It may well be that young people’s peer experiences also have their origins in the developmental histories of their parents. This assumption challenges our current understanding of social development and necessitates that the study of antecedents of specific peer experiences needs to go much further back in time and should zoom in on the pathways that carry this transmission.

The CAPE project: We investigate whether and how peer experiences are transmitted a) to adult friendships and romantic relationships, and b) across generations, i.e., passed on to offspring, to shed light on how the “ghosts from peer past” affect young adults’ relationships and their children’s early social development.

Approach: We examine longitudinal links between adolescent peer and young adult close relationships and test whether parents’ peer experiences affect offspring’s peer experiences. Psychological functioning, parenting, temperament, genetic, and epigenetic transmission mechanisms are examined separately and in interplay, which 1) goes far beyond the current state-of-the-art in social development research, and 2) significantly broadens current bio-socially oriented work on genetic effects in the peer context. We utilise data from the TRAILS cohort that has been followed since age 11. To study intergenerational transmission, the TRAILS NEXT sample of participants with children is substantially extended.

For additional information and how to get involved, please get in touch via email.