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Younger Teens Really Do Care What People Think

The opinion of others is key to their self-image, study finds

WEDNESDAY, July 15 (HealthDay News) -- Although they might not want to admit it, what other people think about them is extremely important to young adolescents, a new study confirms.

Previous research into teens' sensitivity to others' perceptions of them relied on information provided by teens themselves, but the authors of this study monitored brain activity as participants answered questions.

Using brain-mapping technology, the researchers studied neural activity in 12 adolescents (aged 11 to 13) and 12 young adults (aged 22 to 30) who were asked whether short phrases (such as "I am popular") applied to them. The participants were also asked whether they believed others -- such as classmates, best friends and parents -- also thought these phrases described them.

The results showed that young adolescents are more likely than young adults to see themselves in ways that may depend more on what they believe others think about their abilities and attributes. And, certain people appear to have more influence in some areas than others. For example, mothers are more important in how young adolescents view their academic abilities, while best friends are most influential on how they regard their social skills.

"These findings provide a novel form of evidence confirming the sensitivity of adolescents to what they believe others think of them, especially parents and peers," lead author Jennifer H. Pfeifer, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, said in a news release.

"More importantly, they suggest that being able to see others' perspectives on oneself may be particularly critical to development in adolescence. As a result, individuals who lack this social cognitive skill (including those with autism spectrum disorders) may face significant obstacles," she said.

The study appears in the July/August issue of the journal Child Development.

More information

The Nemours Foundation explains how parents can help teens have healthy self-esteem.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Society for Research in Child Development, news release, July 15, 2009

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