Public Release:  In adolescence, girls react differently than boys to peers' judgments

Society for Research in Child Development

Teenagers yearn to fit in and be accepted by their friends. A new study suggests that girls and boys think differently about being judged by their peers as they move through adolescence.

The study, by researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and Georgia State University, appears in the July/August 2009 issue of the journal Child Development.

The researchers looked at mostly White psychiatrically healthy Americans ages 9 to 17 to determine what happens in the brains of preteens and teens at a time of significant change in social behavior. The youths looked at photos of peers and rated their interest in interacting with each one. Then they underwent a brain scan while reviewing the pictures and rated how much each young person in the picture might want to interact with them in return. The youths were told they would be matched with a peer for a chat after the scan.

The study found that in older girls (as compared to younger girls), brain regions (the nucleus accumbens, insula, hypothalamus, hippocampus, and amygdala) associated with social rewards and motivation, processing emotions, hormonal changes, and social memory responded differently when they thought about being judged by their peers, especially peers with whom they wanted to interact. These differences were not evident between younger and older boys.

"The findings offer a fresh perspective on how changes in the brain relate to changes in the way young people think and feel about how their peers view them," according to Amanda E. Guyer, a research fellow at NIMH, who led the study. "They are relevant for parents, teachers, and clinicians who are trying to help teens adjust socially during adolescence. They may be especially relevant for girls, who are more likely than boys to feel anxious and depressed at this time."

The research was supported by NIMH.

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Summarized from Child Development, Vol. 80, Issue 4, Probing the Neural Correlates of Anticipated Peer Evaluation in Adolescence by Guyer, AE (National Institute of Mental Health--NIMH), McClure-Tone, EB (Georgia State University), and Shiffrin, ND, Pine, DS, and Nelson, EE (NIMH). Copyright 2009 The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved.

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