Peer pressure, a force that causes people to behave similarly to their peers, is considered a negative factor that promotes juvenile delinquency such as drinking and running away. However, research has shown that peer pressure can have a positive effect on adolescents.
The Ulsan Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) announced on the 16th December that a research team led by Professor Chung Dongil of Biomedical Engineering and a research team from Virginia Tech in the U.S. found that certain areas of the brain that judge social values are activated when they see “risk-avoid” choices of their peers.
Seventy-eight teenagers participated in the study. Half of them were ordinary teenagers who had never shown delinquency, and the other half were teenagers who had experience using illegal drugs such as alcohol, cigarettes, or marijuana. The teenagers who participated in the experiment went into a functional MRI machine and performed a simple gambling task. The task was done in the form of selecting one of the two gambling options. For example, if you choose option 1, you can definitely receive 20,000 won, and in option 2, if you choose, you can get 60,000 won with a very rare chance, but for the rest, you can only get 1,000 won. In some of the games, it was possible to see which of the two options the peers had chosen before making a choice, and in the rest of the game, they made their own choices without seeing their peers’ choices. Participating teenagers were paid a trial participation bonus with money determined as one of the gambling options selected during the game after all games were over.
Teenagers who showed delinquency tended to choose more dangerous options than ordinary teenagers who did not. However, the more surprising difference was the implementation of making decisions after seeing peer choices. Teenagers who showed delinquency were not affected by their peers with safety preferences, while those who had never shown delinquency tended to follow their peers’ safe choices. These differences have been identified in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, a brain region that represents the value of social information.
The brains of teenagers who had never shown any delinquent behaviors reacted more actively when they saw their peer’s safe choices and showed that they gave greater value to their peer’s choices. The results of this study show that, unlike previous studies, safe-loving or risk-averse peers can act as protectors of juvenile delinquent behavior.
The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on November 30: “Valuation of peers’ safe choices is associated with substance-naïveté in adolescents.”
UNIST News Center. (n.d.). Retrieved December 24, 2020, from https://news.unist.ac.kr/kor/contact-info/unist-in-the-news/
Chung D, Orloff MA, Lauharatanahirun N, Chiu PH, King-Casas B. Valuation of peers’ safe choices is associated with substance-naïveté in adolescents. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Dec 15;117(50):31729-31737. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1919111117. Epub 2020 Nov 30. PMID: 33257568; PMCID: PMC7749349.