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Education Week: Teenagers Are Wired for Peer Approval, Study Says

Psychology, adolescence, education, risk

It’s true: Adolescents really do want to jump off a bridge just because their friends are doing it. But new research suggests changes in how teenagers view risks and rewards around their peers are not only a critical part of their development, but may also provide a key to motivating them.

From the DARE anti-drug program to abstinence-only curricula, education has been full of high-profile attempts to curtail risky behavior that have met with mixed success at best. The emerging evidence suggests, however, that changing teenagers’ behavior demands accounting for their social circles, not just asking them to stand up to their peers.

In an ongoing series of studies, Temple University researchers Laurence Steinberg and Jason M. Chein and their colleagues have found that teenagers take more risks and are more sensitive to potential rewards when they think peers are watching them—even if they consciously believe they aren’t affected by peer pressure.

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