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Two of the decks would lead to an overall loss, and two would lead to overall gains.The experimenters told players that some decks were “good” and others “bad” but did not tell players which were which.
And this finding could have important implications for how we think about educating adolescents. Lieberman, a social cognitive neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of the 2013 book , suspects that the human brain is especially adept at learning socially salient information.
He points to a classic 2004 study in which psychologists at Dartmouth College and Harvard University used functional MRI to track brain activity in 17 young men as they listened to descriptions of people while concentrating on either socially relevant cues (for example, trying to form an impression of a person based on the description) or more socially neutral information (such as noting the order of details in the description).
Steinberg and Gardner randomly assigned some participants to play alone or with two same-age peers looking on.
Older adolescents scored about 50 percent higher on an index of risky driving when their peers were in the room—and the driving of early adolescents was fully twice as reckless when other young teens were around.
Such findings, he says, suggest that “this network can be called on to process and store the kind of information taught in school—potentially giving students access to a range of untapped mental powers.” If humans are generally geared to recall details about one another, this pattern is probably even more powerful among teenagers who are hyperattentive to social minutiae: who is in, who is out, who likes whom, who is mad at whom.
Their penchant for social drama is not—or not —a way of distracting themselves from their schoolwork or of driving adults crazy.
Over the course of playing the game, participants gradually figured out which decks to return to and which to avoid.
In Steinberg's study, which involved 101 adolescent males, researchers randomly assigned participants to play alone or in the presence of three same-age peers.
In contrast, adults behaved in similar ways regardless of whether they were on their own or observed by others.
“The presence of peers makes adolescents and youth, but not adults, more likely to take risks,” Steinberg and Gardner concluded.