Young users may experience rewards more intensely when peers are observing

In a study conducted in 2015, researchers investigated how peer observation affects the processing of rewards in adolescents and adults. In the primary task, 40 participants had to play a card game on a computer, where they had to guess if the number behind a card would be lower or higher than 5. Brain activity data was recorded using a fMRI device, and participants may or may not be with a peer. The analytical approach involved comparing brain activity for different ages and social context, using repeated measures GLM and ANOVAs. Confounders like differences in reward history for each participant were controled. Among other hypothesis, the primary hypothesis which posited that reward system becomes more active for adolescents when friends are around, pushing them to more engagement, was supported by the results with a large (p. 81) effect size. Authors relate to litterature to explain how adolescent engagement can lead to positive or risky behaviors. This overview provides a concise synthesis of the most relevant results. For more details, please refer to the article page.

If you create an experience that provides rewards for adolescent users, think about allowing peers of the same age and gender to witness those rewards, but keep in mind that it may have implications for both positive and risky behaviors.

Smith, A. R., Steinberg, L., Strang, N. M., & Chein, J. (2015). Age differences in the impact of peers on adolescents’ and adults’ neural response to reward. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 11, 75–82.

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