Teenagers Shape Each Other’s Views on Risk

Teenagers’ judgments of how risky a situation might be are most influenced by what other teenagers think, according to new research.

Most other age groups are more influenced by what adults think, noted researchers from the University College London.

For the study, 563 visitors to the London Science Museum were asked to rate the riskiness of everyday situations, such as crossing a road on a red light or taking a shortcut through a dark alley. Ratings were given on a scale from low to high risk.

The researchers found that children between the ages of eight and 11 generally rated situations as more risky than all other age groups.

Participants were then told how other people, either teenagers or adults, had rated the same situations, before being asked to rate each situation again. These risk levels from teenagers or adults were actually randomly generated by the researchers.

The researchers found that people in all age groups were influenced after hearing how others rated each situation and changed their risk ratings in the direction of other people’s. However, this social influence decreased with age.

Additionally, most age groups adjusted their ratings to conform to the ratings of adults than those of teenagers, except for young adolescents between the ages of 12 and 14.

“Young adolescents were more strongly influenced by other teenagers than by adults, suggesting that in early adolescence the opinions of other teenagers about risk matter more than the opinions of adults,” said lead author Dr. Lisa Knoll of the University College London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.

“Our findings suggest that the target of public health interventions should be adolescent social norms, rather than simply focusing on the potential health risks associated with certain situations and choices.”

“As people get older, they become more confident in their own judgment of risk and less swayed by other people,” added senior author Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore.

“We know that adolescents are more likely to take risks when with peers than alone,” she said.

“Our study showed that young adolescents do not perceive situations as less risky than older age groups, but do tend to change their risk perception in the direction of the opinions of similar aged peers. So other teenagers’ opinions about risk seem to influence young adolescents into judging a situation as less risky than they originally thought it was.”

The study was published in Psychological Science.

Source: University College London