Pubertal timing and peer influence on risky decision-making
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Adolescents engage in more risky behavior when they are with peers and show heightened susceptibility to peer influence relative to children and adults. Recent experimental studies suggest that peer influence on adolescent risk-taking may be mediated by activity in reward-related regions of the brain (Gardner & Steinberg, 2005; Chein et al., 2011). Because reward-related regions are modified by the hormonal changes of puberty, it is possible that the heightened influence of peers on adolescent risk-taking is more closely linked to pubertal development than chronological age. The current study examined whether the effect of peers on risk-taking was moderated by pubertal status. Participants (62 youth, ages 11-16) completed a performance-based measure of risky decision-making, once alone and once in the presence of two peers. Pubertal timing was assessed using self-report. Adolescents made riskier decisions in the presence of peers, and more advanced pubertal development predicted greater risky decision-making, controlling for chronological age. However, the relationship between pubertal timing and risk-taking was only apparent when adolescents completed the task alone. The effect of peer presence on risky decision-making was attenuated for adolescents with more advanced pubertal development. These findings suggest that the presence of peers may override biologically-based individual differences in propensity for risk-taking.