Psychologist Laurence Steinberg of Temple University, has been studying risk-taking in teens and the influence of their peers. Steinberg used a driving simulation game in which he studied teens deciding to run a yellow light. He found that when teens were playing alone they made safer decisions, but in the presence of friends the teens made riskier decisions. Peer influence is an important component of adolescence development and encompasses both positive and negative outcomes.1 In adolescence, teens begin to develop friendships that are more intimate and longer lasting and at the same time have multiple groups of friends that are similar in demographics or interests. These friendships allow teens to develop their identities and define themselves independently of their parents, feel accepted, and practice social skills.
Healthy friendships provide support for challenges teens encounter in adolescence and provide positive experiences during these years of intense change. However, when teens find themselves in emotionally arousing situations and with their immature prefrontal cortex, “hot” cognition thinking comes into play, and they may be more likely to take reckless actions and make impulsive decisions.2