Parents Versus Peers: Assessing the Impact of Social Agents on Decision Making in Young Adults

Psychol Sci. 2018 Sep;29(9):1526-1539. doi: 10.1177/0956797618778497. Epub 2018 Aug 8.


Young adulthood is a developmental phase when individuals must navigate a changing social milieu that involves considering how their decisions affect close others such as parents and peers. To date, no empirical work has directly evaluated how young adults weigh these relationships against one another. We conducted a preregistered experiment in which we pitted outcomes for parents against outcomes for friends. Participants ( N = 174, ages 18-30 years) played two runs of the Columbia Card Task-one in which gains benefited a parent and losses were incurred by a friend and another in which the opposite was true. We also tested whether age, relationship quality, and reward type earned for parents and friends (simulated vs. real) acted as moderating influences on parent-friend prioritization. Results showed that individuals were more likely to make decisions that benefited a parent at the expense of a friend. Relationship quality and reward type moderated this effect, whereas age did not.

Keywords: decision making; development; open data; open materials; preregistered; young adulthood.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Friends*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Parents*
  • Reward
  • Social Behavior
  • Young Adult