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Gender differences in adolescent anxiety symptoms: Interactions between peer experiences and individual characteristics Open Access


Other title
friendship closeness
social competence
peer victimization
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Hosan, Naheed
Supervisor and department
Wiebe, Sandra (Psychology)
Smith, Veronica (Educational Psychology)
Examining committee member and department
Pazderka, Hannah (Psychiatry)
Baerveldt, Cor (Psychology)
Bowker, Julie (University of Maryland)
Pei, Jacqueline (Educational Psychology)
Department of Psychology

Date accepted
Graduation date
2017-11:Fall 2017
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Anxiety is the most common mental health concern among children and adolescents globally. Anxiety symptoms such as fears and worries increase markedly in early adolescence, particularly for girls. However, not all early adolescents experience this increase in anxiety symptoms. Guided by the developmental psychopathology framework, this study examined risk and protective factors at the peer and individual levels that may influence anxiety symptoms in early adolescence. The first goal was to describe short-term person-level fluctuations in anxiety symptoms over eight weeks during the Spring term of Grade 7. The second goal was to examine bi-weekly co-variation between adolescents’ anxiety symptoms and their peer experiences (peer victimization, friendship closeness). The third goal was to investigate the main and moderating effects of individual characteristics (self-blaming attributions, social competence) on anxiety symptoms and on the co-variation between peer experiences and anxiety symptoms. The fourth goal was to examine gender differences in these associations. These research goals were addressed using a series of two-level hierarchical linear models. Participants were 180 ethnically diverse adolescents (60.6% girls; mean age = 12.7 years, SD = .44 years) in 2 large junior high schools. Results indicate although both girls and boys experienced significant fluctuations in their anxiety symptoms across the eight weeks, girls experienced greater fluctuations. Further, on weeks when adolescents experienced more frequent peer victimization, they also concurrently experienced more frequent anxiety symptoms. Adolescents who made more self-blaming attributions also experienced more frequent anxiety symptoms, whereas more socially competent adolescents experienced fewer anxiety symptoms. Closeness in adolescents’ friendships did not co-vary with their anxiety symptoms. Furthermore, neither self-blaming attributions nor social competence moderated the associations between adolescents’ anxiety symptoms and their peer experiences. There were also no gender differences in these associations. Overall, these findings expand current understanding of early adolescent anxiety symptoms by focusing on person-level variability in anxiety. How these findings parse the complex interplay between gender, and peer and individual risk and protective factors are discussed within the context of developmental psychopathology.
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