Neural correlates of prosocial peer influence on public goods game donations during adolescence

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A unique feature of adolescent social re-orientation is heightened sensitivity to peer influence when taking risks. However, positive peer influence effects are not yet well understood. The present fMRI study tested a novel hypothesis, by examining neural correlates of prosocial peer influence on donation decisions in adolescence. Participants (age 12–16 years; N = 61) made decisions in anonymous groups about the allocation of tokens between themselves and the group in a public goods game. Two spectator groups of same-age peers—in fact youth actors—were allegedly online during some of the decisions. The task had a within-subjects design with three conditions: (1) Evaluation: spectators evaluated decisions with likes for large donations to the group, (2) Spectator: spectators were present but no evaluative feedback was displayed and (3) Alone: no spectators nor feedback. Results showed that prosocial behavior increased in the presence of peers, and even more when participants received evaluative feedback from peers. Peer presence resulted in enhanced activity in several social brain regions including medial prefrontal cortex, temporal parietal junction (TPJ), precuneus and superior temporal sulcus. TPJ activity correlated with donations, which suggests similar networks for prosocial behavior and sensitivity to peers. These findings highlight the importance of peers in fostering prosocial development throughout adolescence.

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