Risk contagion by peers affects learning and decision-making in adolescents
Adolescence is a period of life in which social influences—particularly if they come from peers—play a critical role in shaping learning and decision preferences. Recent studies in adults show evidence of a risk contagion effect; that is, individual risk preferences are modulated by observing and learning from others' risk-related decisions. In this study, using choice data and computational modeling, we demonstrate stronger risk contagion in male adolescents when observing peers compared to nonpeers. This effect was only present when the observed peer showed risk-seeking preferences. Moreover, adolescents represented the peers' decisions better than those of adults. Intriguingly, the degree of peer-biased risk contagion in adolescents was positively associated with real-life social integration. Contrary to previous accounts, our data suggest that peer conformity during risky decision-making in adolescence is a socially motivated, deliberative process. Susceptibility to peer influence in adolescence might be adaptive, associated with higher degrees of social functioning.