The study, published in The Journal of Research on Adolescence, found that subjects who played with other adolescents watching them took more risks early on than the solo group by playing cards more often than passing. But the peer-observed group was also faster to learn which decks were lucky — and were quicker to start avoiding the unlucky decks — than the solo group. “Risk-taking in and of itself is not a bad thing, and taking risks is one way we learn about the world around us,” said study author Laurence Steinberg, the Distinguished University Professor and Laura H. Carnell Professor of Psychology at Temple University. “Peers may motivate each other to explore their environment in a way they might not do if they were being more cautious. Sometimes that leads to harmful consequences, but sometimes it leads to learning new things that are good, and I think that’s one of the points of the paper.”
Steinberg is among a group of scientists who are dedicating their research to understanding the profound changes being experienced by the adolescent brain. It was once assumed that the human brain fully develops by our early teenage years, but recent research using brain imaging has discovered that areas of the brain associated with cognitive and emotional processing continue to mature from early adolescence until at least our mid-20s.