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As Peer Pressure Increases, So Does Brain's Ability to Resist It
Date:3/9/2011

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, March 9 (HealthDay News) -- Even as peer pressure mounts in early adolescence, kids' brains are developing an ability to help fight the temptations of risky behavior, novel new research reports.

Over a three-year period, researchers from Oregon and California studied 24 girls and 14 boys from diverse backgrounds to gain insight into the brain's wiring during adolescence, finding the most significant changes in a region linked to reward processing.

The children underwent functional MRI scans twice, at ages 10 and 13, to measure blood flow changes in the brain as they were shown pictures of faces making neutral, angry, fearful, happy and sad emotional expressions. They also filled out questionnaires evaluating their own susceptibility to peer influences and risky or delinquent behavior.

Over the study period, activity increases in a brain region known as the ventral striatum correlated with an increase in the children's self-reported ability to deflect peer pressure, said study author Jennifer Pfeifer, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oregon and director of its Developmental Social Neuroscience Lab. She added that early adolescence is a key period because peer influence has been shown to be greatest during late elementary to early middle school.

"To have clinical applications, we need to understand what's developing formatively to identify the things that are atypical," Pfeifer said. "We need to know ... what changes when."

The study is published in the March 10 issue of the journal Neuron.

Richard Gallagher, an associate professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at New York University, said he was concerned that the study results might be skewed because two-thirds of the participants were girls.

"I do know girls and women are much more attentive to emotions than boys, and get a lot less involved in r
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