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Examining the neural process behind taking risks and peer pressure

When it comes to taking risks, the human brain places a higher value on the prospect of winning in a social setting than it does if you are alone, according to findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In the small study (.pdf), researchers at the University of Southern California used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and physiological recordings to measured participants' brain activity as they entered into lotteries in social and private contexts. They then compared the decision-making data to investigate the neural underpinnings of the effect of social comparison on risky choices. According to a university release that study results showed:

That the striatum, a part of the brain associated with rewards, showed higher activity when a participant beat a peer in the lottery, as opposed to when the participant won while alone. The medial prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain associated with social reasoning, was more activated as well. Those participants who won in a social setting also tended to engage in more risky and competitive behavior in subsequent lotteries.

Photo by Lori Photography

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