The Teenage Brain

Peer Influences on Adolescent Decision Making

  1. Dustin Albert1,2,3
  2. Jason Chein4
  3. Laurence Steinberg4
  1. 1Center for Child and Family Policy, Duke University
  2. 2Social Science Research Institute, Duke University
  3. 3Center for Developmental Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  4. 4Department of Psychology, Temple University
  1. Laurence Steinberg, Temple University, Weiss Hall, Philadelphia, PA 19122 E-mail:lds@temple.edu

Abstract

Research efforts to account for elevated risk behavior among adolescents have arrived at an exciting new stage. Moving beyond laboratory studies of age differences in risk perception and reasoning, new approaches have shifted their focus to the influence of social and emotional factors on adolescent decision making. We review recent research suggesting that adolescent risk-taking propensity derives in part from a maturational gap between early adolescent remodeling of the brain’s socioemotional reward system and a gradual, prolonged strengthening of the cognitive-control system. Research has suggested that in adolescence, a time when individuals spend an increasing amount of time with their peers, peer-related stimuli may sensitize the reward system to respond to the reward value of risky behavior. As the cognitive-control system gradually matures over the course of the teenage years, adolescents grow in their capacity to coordinate affect and cognition and to exercise self-regulation, even in emotionally arousing situations. These capacities are reflected in gradual growth in the capacity to resist peer influence.

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