Peer Influences on Adolescent Risk Behavior



Moving beyond studies of age differences in “cool” cognitive ­processes related to risk perception and reasoning, new approaches to understanding ­adolescent risk behavior highlight the influence of “hot” social and emotional ­factors on adolescents’ decisions. Building on evidence from developmental neuroscience, we present a theory that highlights an adolescent gap in the developmental timing of neurobehavioral systems underpinning incentive processing and cognitive control. Whereas changes in brain regions involved in incentive processing result in heightened sensitivity to social and emotional rewards in early adolescence, cognitive control systems do not reach full maturity until late adolescence or early adulthood. Within this framework, middle adolescence represents a window of heightened vulnerability to peer influences toward risk-taking behavior. At a time when adolescents spend an increasing amount of time with peers, research suggests that exposure to peer-related stimuli sensitizes the reward system to the reward value of risky behavior. As the cognitive control system gradually matures, adolescents gain the capacity to exercise self-regulation in socio-emotionally challenging situations, reflected by an increasing capacity to resist peer influence.


Cognitive Control Risk Taking Sensation Seek Iowa Gambling Task Reward Processing 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyPhiladelphiaUSA

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