ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2021, Vol. 29 ›› Issue (8): 1462-1471.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2021.01462

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The influence of peers on adolescents’ risk-taking behavior and its mechanism

ZHANG Weiwei1,2, ZHU Liqi1,2()   

  1. 1CAS Key Laboratory of Behavioral Science, Institute of Psychology Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
    2Department of Psychology, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • Received:2020-09-04 Published:2021-06-25
  • Contact: ZHU Liqi


Puberty is a unique period during which individuals experience rapid growth in social, emotional and cognitive aspects, yet remain immature. Compared with adults, adolescents are more inclined to engage in risky or reckless behaviors that are detrimental to their physical and mental health, such as smoking, alcohol abuse, and dangerous driving. At the same time, from childhood to adolescence, the influence of parents on adolescents gradually weakens, while the influence of peers gradually increases. Regarding the question of how adolescents’ adventurous behavior is affected by their peers, the results of previous empirical studies are mixed. In addition, the mechanism of this influence, which is a more crucial research question, remains unknown. From the perspectives of personal characteristics and social interaction, this paper reviews the results of previous studies and finds facilitating effect of peers on adolescents' risk-taking behaviors. Specifically, when adolescents complete a risk-taking task, being watched by a peer can increase the adolescent's risk-taking behavior, even when the peers and the participants are not at the same place. When the adolescent and the peer are in the same room, and the peer can communicate with them or even give advice during the task, peers can play an even stronger role in facilitating the adolescent's risk-taking behavior. Compared with the influence from adults, adolescents are particularly sensitive to the influence from their peers. In addition, personal traits (such as resistance to peer influence and gender) and situational factors (such as the certainty of situation: vague/explicit, and different forms of peer participation: cooperation/competition) play a moderate role. The influence of peers on adolescents' risk-taking behavior and its underlying mechanisms can be explained from multiple aspects, including psychology, neurology, gene, society and culture. From the psychological aspect, this influence stems from the needs of adolescents to seek peers’ recognition and belonging, as well as learn from peers (i.e., social learning). From the aspect of neural mechanism, this influence comes from the interaction between cognitive control network and stimulus processing system: when adolescents make decisions involving risks in the presence of a real or virtual companion, activation of the cognitive control network decreases, and that of the reward system increases. From the genetic perspective, the effect may be due to susceptibility of specific genes. For instance, 5-HTTLPR short allele carriers are more sensitive to peer influence. From the social and cultural aspect, while the influence of peers on risk-taking behavior has a certain generality, the degree of the influence differs in different cultural contexts. For example, compared with white adolescents, risk-taking behaviors of non-white adolescents are more likely to be influenced by peers. In collectivist culture, adolescents’ smoking behavior is more positively correlated with that of their peers. Future research should further explore the influence of peers on adolescents' risk-taking behavior from the perspectives of development, cultural psychology and construction of complex model network.

Key words: adolescents, peers, risk-taking behavior, dual-system model

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