Under Scrutiny: Comparing the Effects of Virtual Peer Ratings on Risk-Taking
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Adolescents, compared to other age groups, disproportionately choose to engage in behaviours that endanger them or others, especially in the presence of peers. The dual-systems model attributes this heightened risk-taking to a rapidly developing reward system that overpowers a slower-maturing cognitive control system in situations where excitement is high. The current study uses a new virtual peer paradigm to compare the effects of positive evaluation, negative evaluation, and heightened non-social rewards on risk-taking. Participants (n = 73, ages 12-30, 65.75% women) were randomly assigned to conditions and completed a risk-taking task in two contexts: under low arousal (alone), and under high arousal (watched by a virtual peer). Participants who received a negative evaluation evinced significantly greater risk-taking than those who received a positive evaluation when watched. This effect was not observed when participants completed the task alone. Results suggest, preliminarily, that negative social evaluative contexts may be more likely to lead to increased risk-taking than positive ones.