Public Release: 

Strength of connections between brain regions may affect an adolescent's response to peer influence

Society for Neuroscience

WASHINGTON, DC July 26, 2007 - Brain regions that regulate different aspects of behavior are more interconnected in children with high resistance to peer influence than those with low resistance, according to a new study published in the July 25 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

"These findings may help develop more effective strategies to prevent the development of lifestyles of violence and crime," says John Sweeney, PhD, Director of the Center for Cognitive Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Sweeney was not involved in this study.

In the new study, Tomas Paus, MD, PhD, at the University of Nottingham, and his colleagues used functional neuroimaging to scan adolescents while they watched video clips of neutral or angry hand and face movements. Previous research has shown that anger is the most easily recognized emotion.

Paus and his team observed 35 10-year-olds with high and low resistance to peer influence, as determined by a questionnaire. The researchers then showed the children video clips of angry hand movements and angry faces and measured their brain activity. They found that the brains of all children showed activity in regions important for planning and extracting information about social cues from movement, but the connectivity between these regions was stronger in children who were marked as less vulnerable to peer influence. These children were also found to have more activity in the prefrontal cortex, an area important for decision making and inhibition of socially inappropriate behavior.

"This is important if we are to understand how the adolescent brain attains the right balance between acknowledging the influences of others and maintaining one's independence," says Paus.

Future research will involve follow-up studies with the same children to determine whether their resistance to real-life peer influence is related to the differences in brain wiring observed in this study.

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The work was a supported by grants from the Santa Fe Institute Consortium and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

The Journal of Neuroscience is published by the Society for Neuroscience, an organization of more than 36,500 basic scientists and clinicians who study the brain and nervous system. Paus can be reached at tomas.paus@nottingham.ac.uk.

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