A study led by Georgio Coricelli of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences has looked into why we take more risks when we are with friends. According to the results of the study, it all lies in the way our brains are wired.
In the study Coricelli and his team measured activity in the brain associated with social reasoning and rewards while participants in the study entered the lottery. The results of brain activity showed more activity in the striatum, the part of the brain that is associated with rewards, when beating a peer in the lottery than when they won alone. It was also noted that in following lotteries those that had won in a social setting were more inclined to take greater risks and become more competitive.
Coricelli explained these results with the principal ideas from evolutionary history that those in lone environments taking risks are more likely to face a life-threatening consequence of the risk they have taken. Compared with those in a social environment the rewards of taking risks can be great such as improving social standing amongst other individuals which in many cases is vital for sexual competition in finding mates and for securing other resources such as food, a vital commodity.
With our brains putting so much value into taking risks when in a social surrounding compared with when we are alone, it becomes clear why peer pressure amongst groups of individuals isn’t a rare occurrence. With many of the risks we take, we do them in order to try and raise our social standing, so that we are noticed and not left behind by our peers. Those that are more susceptible to peer pressure are more often than not teenagers, where so much pressure is applied from both the media and others in there group and generally they lack the maturity to understand the risks they are taking.
Taking into account Coricelli and his team’s findings, everyone can take some solace in knowing that if you have ever succumbed to peer pressure, more often or not it is largely down to the wiring of your brain.