Peers influence adolescent reward processing, but not response inhibition

  • Ashley R. Smith
  • Gail M. Rosenbaum
  • Morgan A. Botdorf
  • Laurence Steinberg
  • Jason M. Chein


Most adolescent risk taking occurs in the presence of peers. Prior research suggests that peers alter adolescents’ decision making by increasing reward sensitivity and the engagement of regions involved in the processing of rewards, primarily the striatum. However, the potential influence of peers on the capacity for impulse control, and the associated recruitment of the brain’s control circuitry, has not yet been adequately examined. In the current study, adolescents underwent functional neuroimaging while they completed interleaved rounds of risk-taking and response-inhibition tasks. Social context was manipulated such that the participants believed they were either playing alone and unobserved, or watched by an anonymous peer. Compared to those who completed the tasks alone, adolescents in the peer condition took more risks during the risk-taking task and exhibited relatively heightened activation of the striatum. Activity within this striatal region also predicted individual differences in overall risk taking. In contrast, the presence of peers had no effect on behavioral response inhibition and had minimal impact on the engagement of typical cognitive control regions. In a subregion of the anterior insula engaged mutually by both tasks, activity was again found to be sensitive to social context during the risk-taking task, but not during the response-inhibition task. These findings extend the evidence that the presence of peers biases adolescents towards risk taking by increasing reward sensitivity rather than disrupting cognitive control.


Adolescence Peer influence Risk taking Cognitive control 


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ashley R. Smith
    • 1
  • Gail M. Rosenbaum
    • 1
  • Morgan A. Botdorf
    • 1
  • Laurence Steinberg
    • 1
  • Jason M. Chein
    • 1
  1. 1.Temple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA

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