Peer Pressure Is Hard-wired In Human Brain: Study

Family Matters on 09.09.11
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Photo: trix0r / Creative Commons

Peer pressure can be an awfully powerful thing. From bullying to doing stupid things, we wonder why people take risks when in a group, doing things that they would never do when alone. But it may be all biological: a study recently published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that the brain actually places more importance on risk-taking and winning in social settings, versus when alone.

The study, led by Georgio Coricelli of USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, measured activity in the areas of the brain associated with rewards and social reasoning when participants entered into a lottery.

According to Science Daily:

The researchers found that the striatum, a part of the brain associated with rewards, showed higher activity when a participant beat a peer in the lottery, as opposed to when the participant won while alone. The medial prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain associated with social reasoning, was more activated as well. Those participants who won in a social setting also tended to engage in more risky and competitive behavior in subsequent lotteries.

"These findings suggest that the brain is equipped with the ability to detect and encode social signals, make social signals salient, and then, use these signals to optimize future behavior," Coricelli said.

As Coricelli explained, in private environments, losing can more easily be life-threatening. With no social support network in place, a bad gamble can spell doom.

The researchers noted that risk-taking can therefore significant impacts on the perception of social status, and how that may translate to access to mates and food (think alpha animal behavior here). But beyond basic survival instincts, understanding how peer pressure works in social situations like bullying can ultimately help parents and kids better cope with peer pressure and to act accordingly.

More over at Science Daily.

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