Humans have a strong need for social connections, which provide social security and a feeling of social acceptance. Across adolescence, peers emerge as important social interaction partners to fulfill the need for social connections. In her dissertation, Elisabeth Schreuders highlights adolescence as a sensitive period for pursuing personal goals and social development through interactions with different familiar peers, particularly friends.
Neural reward-related processes and neural processes underlying prosocial behavior were examined using longitudinal and ecologically valid research designs. The findings show involvement of changes in ventral striatum reward sensitivity from early to mid-adolescence in the motivation to pursue personally valued goals, including stable friendships. It was furthermore found that adults who to a lesser extent adhered to the social norm of behaving in a prosocial manner toward friends yielded greater activity in the supplementary motor area and anterior insula.
Additionally, exploratory analyses showed that mid-adolescents with greater social competence yielded greater activity in several brain areas implicated in prosocial decision-making involving friends, including the putamen and superior parietal lobule. Together, these findings highlight adolescence as a sensitive period for self and social development, in which social motivations are reflected in interactions with different types of peers.
Watch the vlog by Eric Heuvelink about Lisa’s PhD project here: