This article discussed the effect of peer influences on decision making and risk taking in adolescents. This article compared the differences between children, adolescents and adults in a variety of situations. The research in this article set out to show that adolescents spend a great deal of time with their peer groups and when they are with those groups there are more likely to engage in risky behavior. Decision-making and risk-taking behavior undergo developmental changes during adolescence. There is a gap between adolescence and adulthood that gives way to the reorganization of the brain’s award system. During this time it seems that the reward value of engaging in risky behavior outweighs the reward from peers. People often believe that teens engage in risky behavior because they are not very good at evaluating the risk. Instead the teen is motivated to focus on their peers in decision-making situations that involve risky behavior. “Brain-based changes in emotional, motivational and cognitive processing may underlie risk-taking and decision-making propensities in adolescence, making this period a time of heightened vulnerability for engagement in addictive behaviors.”
The authors shows a series of examples to support their claims. The article starts with a quote from an anonymous teenager who states that if they had the opportunity to pass up cars and the other lane was clear and friends were in the car he/she would do it but he/she were by themselves then they would not. This was a great example to start the article because it clearly supported the claim that an adolescent would take more risks with the presence of peers.
Next the article discusses that it is well know that adolescent are more likely that adults or children to take risks an experiment drugs, alcohol, tobacco, crime, unprotected sex, and reckless driving. But in a test the authors found that adolescents and adults process risky situations in the same way. So what is the key factor in adolescents taking more chances and risks in a variety of situations. The one key difference was the decision-making process would be different if they are alone as opposed to being with friends. Basically, the authors thought that the company of other teenagers altered their decision making and increased the amount of risks taken.
I have four boys and 1 of them is in elementary school, 2 of them are teenagers in high school and the oldest is 21 in college. My 16-year-old just got his first car. When the boys have friends over I see them constantly taking risks with fire, making food, walking across the street, and jumping on the trampoline. For example, we always light a fire in the late summer and early fall. This is routine, and the boys take turns adding lighter fluid and lighting the bonfire. When they are alone this is done quickly and safely. One time our son Toriano who is 14 had a couple friends over and was asked to light the fire. He went to go the wood and lighter fluid and started the fire but that day he decided to add a little additional lighter fluid and his friends were very excited at the burst of flames. He continued to add more lighter fluid to continue making the flame go higher and higher. Even though he knew better and understood that his actions were risky and unsafe. He continued to engage in the risky behavior and was actually excited about it as his friends watched. I feel that this example directly supports the claims in this article. I have similar stories for each one of my boys some as simple as taking a chance crossing the road and bolting out in between cars just to see the reaction on his friends faces with a total disregard for consequences. I am not sure what is going in in their heads at that time, but I am able to clearly see a change and difference in our 20-year-old son who does not take the same chances that his younger brother takes and tries to be a voice of reason to correct their actions.
One of the other tests discussed in the article was trying to get an understanding of “whether the presence of peer’s biases adolescents’ decision making by (a) modulating responses to incentive cues, as predicted by the approach-sensitization hypothesis, (b) disrupting inhibitory control, or (c) altering both of these processes.” To understand each of these processes the propensity to take risks was assessed by playing the stoplight game. Subjects in their late teens were selected to play the stoplight game first alone and then with an audience of their peers. This was repeated as a follow up with an anonymous audience in another room and still had the same result. “As predicted, participants exhibited a stronger preference for immediate rewards in the task when they believed they were being observed than when they were alone (Weigard, Chein, & Steinberg, 2011).”
I can’t think of a test that could have been conducted to garner a different response. I do believe that the article is correct to deduct that there has to be something that neurologically happens as the brain matures that changes. Why is it that my 20-year-old son no longer cares to entertain his friends with risky behavior? What is different that he is no longer stimulated by engaging in those activities. This even raises a bigger question what about the adults that still crave that stimulus and have not matured? Is there a neurologically answer for why they are in a perpetual state of adolescence. I raise that question because my brother-in-law Lonny is 48 years old and still acts like a teen. He is always pulling some stunt most of the time at his expense to get a response from anyone in the room. He is either chugging beer, or playing the knife game, or seeing how many peppers he can it or how long he can hold a flame to his skin before he winces.
This article mostly concluded exactly what I thought it would what I have lived through with my family members and seeing them grow out of this phase. But it has also made me look at the behavior of my brother-in-law. Could there be a real reason that he acts in this way and continues to take risks just to get a response. I would like to think that there is a neurological disorder that he is dealing with rather than just being crazy. That is what I wrote him off as. But this article pushed me to think about what other possibilities there might be. Neurodevelopmental dynamics regarding taking risks was proven to play a role in adolescents with their peer groups. But what about an adult with a delay, developmental issue, or neurological issue that prevented the proper maturation of a certain part of the brain. Could you be stuck in this phase?
All in all, I thought the article did a great job in presenting information and studies to support their claim. I can’t say that I truly understand all of the intricacies of the tests that were performed but overall, they chose experiments that supported their position.