Peers increase adolescent risk taking even when the probabilities of negative outcomes are known

Dev Psychol. 2014 May;50(5):1564-8. doi: 10.1037/a0035696. Epub 2014 Jan 20.


The majority of adolescent risk taking occurs in the presence of peers, and recent research suggests that the presence of peers may alter how the potential rewards and costs of a decision are valuated or perceived. The current study further explores this notion by investigating how peer observation affects adolescent risk taking when the information necessary to make an informed decision is explicitly provided. We used a novel probabilistic gambling task in which participants decided whether to play or pass on a series of offers for which the reward and loss outcome probabilities were made explicit. Adolescent participants completed the task either alone or under the belief that they were being observed by an unknown peer in a neighboring room. Participants who believed a peer was observing them chose to gamble more often than participants who completed the task alone, and this effect was most evident for decisions with a greater probability of loss. These results suggest that the presence of peers can increase risk taking among adolescents even when specific information regarding the likelihood of positive and negative outcomes is provided. The findings expand our understanding of how peers influence adolescent decision making and have important implications regarding the value of educational programs aimed at reducing risky behaviors during adolescence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Gambling*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Peer Group*
  • Probability
  • Psychological Tests
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Isolation / psychology
  • Social Perception