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Neural responses to exclusion predict susceptibility to social influence

In: Journal of Adolescent Health, volume 54, number 5, supplement, May 2014, pp. S22–S31

Authors: Emily B. Falk, Christopher N. Cascio, Matthew Brook O'Donnell, Joshua Carp, Francis J. Tinney Jr., C. Raymond Bingham, Jean T. Shope, Marie Claude Ouimet, Anuj K. Pradhan, Bruce G. Simons-Morton

Social influence is prominent across the lifespan, but sensitivity to influence is especially high during adolescence and is often associated with increased risk taking. Such risk taking can have dire consequences. For example, in American adolescents, traffic-related crashes are leading causes of nonfatal injury and death. Neural measures may be especially useful in understanding the basic mechanisms of adolescents' vulnerability to peer influence. Methods: We examined neural responses to social exclusion as potential predictors of risk taking in the presence of peers in recently licensed adolescent drivers. Risk taking was assessed in a driving simulator session occurring approximately 1 week after the neuroimaging session. Results: Increased activity in neural systems associated with the distress of social exclusion and mentalizing during an exclusion episode predicted increased risk taking in the presence of a peer (controlling for solo risk behavior) during a driving simulator session outside the neuroimaging laboratory 1 week later. These neural measures predicted risky driving behavior above and beyond self-reports of susceptibility to peer pressure and distress during exclusion. Conclusions: These results address the neural bases of social influence and risk taking; contribute to our understanding of social and emotional function in the adolescent brain; and link neural activity in specific, hypothesized, regions to risk-relevant outcomes beyond the neuroimaging laboratory. Results of this investigation are discussed in terms of the mechanisms underlying risk taking in adolescents and the public health implications for adolescent driving.