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Preference uncertainty accounts for developmental effects on susceptibility to peer influence in adolescence.

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Moutoussis, Michael 
Vanes, Lucy 
Bullmore, Edward T 


Adolescents are prone to social influence from peers, with implications for development, both adaptive and maladaptive. Here, using a computer-based paradigm, we replicate a cross-sectional effect of more susceptibility to peer influence in a large dataset of adolescents 14 to 24 years old. Crucially, we extend this finding by adopting a longitudinal perspective, showing that a within-person susceptibility to social influence decreases over a 1.5 year follow-up time period. Exploiting this longitudinal design, we show that susceptibility to social influences at baseline predicts an improvement in peer relations over the follow-up period. Using a Bayesian computational model, we demonstrate that in younger adolescents a greater tendency to adopt others' preferences arises out of a higher uncertainty about their own preferences in the paradigmatic case of delay discounting (a phenomenon called 'preference uncertainty'). This preference uncertainty decreases over time and, in turn, leads to a reduced susceptibility of one's own behaviour to an influence from others. Neuro-developmentally, we show that a measure of myelination within medial prefrontal cortex, estimated at baseline, predicts a developmental decrease in preference uncertainty at follow-up. Thus, using computational and neural evidence, we reveal adaptive mechanisms underpinning susceptibility to social influence during adolescence.



Adolescent, Adolescent Behavior, Adolescent Development, Cross-Sectional Studies, Female, Humans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Peer Group, Peer Influence, Prefrontal Cortex, Psychomotor Performance, Social Behavior, Uncertainty, Young Adult

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Nat Commun

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC
Wellcome Trust (095844/Z/11/Z)
Wellcome Trust (107392/Z/15/Z)
Medical Research Council (MC_UP_1401/1)
Medical Research Council (MC_UU_00005/9)
Medical Research Council (MC_G0802534)