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Teens Seek Older Peers for Advice Over Adults

“If all of your friends jumped off that bridge, would you do it too?” 

A recent EdWeek blogpost posed the question while highlighting a recently published study in Psychological Science that showed that elementary school students are more like to think independently, while high school seniors seek guidance from their elders, such as a parental figure. Tender adolescents, however, such as high school freshmen and sophomores, tend to look to slightly older peers for guidance. 

In research out of Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London led by psychologist Lisa Joanna Knoll, 563 participants rated riskiness, which was gauged by age. 

“Visitors [rated] the riskiness of common activities such as cutting down a darkened alley or crossing the street against a light. After one round of risk assessment on a 1 to 10 scale, the guests were shown a randomly generated ‘rating’ labeled as being given by an adult or teenager, and later asked to rate the activities again,” the blogpost explains. 

All of the groups changed how they viewed risk based on their age groups according to the above projections of influence. 

"We cannot say whether teenagers want to show off or feel safer in a group," Knoll said in the blogpost. 

"We can only speculate that adolescents seek to conform to the same-aged influence group, not because they trust the ratings of teenagers more than they trust the ratings of adults, but because they want to be accepted by their peer group.”

A piece that ran on NPR compared teenage brain as a battle of judgment between the beloved Star Trek characters Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk. Temple University psychology professor Laurence Steinberg scanned the brains or various adolescent aged groups as they played an instructional driving video game. When the adolescent was alone, they drove as if they were a safe adult. 

Then researchers gave them an audience. 

"This doubles the number of chances that adolescents take, but has no effect on the number of chances adults take,” Steinberg said of the study. 

Neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College B.J. Casey makes the infamous Star Trek comparison. The prefrontal cortex acts as Spock. He’s always trying to seek the most serviceable outcome. The limbic system acts as Captain Kirk. He’s emotional and needs Spock to process the situation logically. Unfortunately for adolescents their prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed, and can’t stop the emotionally stimulated limbic system for looking for those emotional rewards. 

Steinberg’s experiment shows, interestingly enough, that 12-year-olds get get rewards in their limbic systems just by being around their peers, and the experience can be seemingly intoxicating. 

Article by Jason Papallo, Education World Social Media Editor
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