Psychology (B.S.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Faculty Mentor

Ty W. Boyer


The emergence of risk-taking in adolescence, which can have life altering implications such as teenage pregnancy, car accidents, or drug overdoses, has been attributed to several different aspects of development including increased reward sensitivity and immature cognitive control contingent on motivation. Recent psychological research also indicates that adolescent risk-taking increases in the presence of peers. It remains unclear, however, whether this peer effect on risk-taking is attributable to amplified reward sensitivity or is a more general effect of experimenter expectancy and social desirability. This study builds upon this research using a computerized risk-taking task with stimuli that illustrate the probabilities of negative and positive outcomes. We manipulated whether and how participants interacted with a peer while completing the task, with alone, peer present, and virtual peer conditions, as well as the experimenter expectancies conveyed to the participant, with risk-seeking versus risk-aversion instructions. We hypothesized that peer presence would interact with perceived experimenter expectations; specifically, we predicted that peer and virtual peer presence would increase risk-taking, but only in the risk-seeking instructions condition. Results from a university undergraduate sample indicated a main effect of win-to-loss probability on behavior, and a main effect of social context on risk behavior. The results suggested that peer presence increases adolescent risk-taking in both physically present and virtual peer conditions, and that manipulating experimenter expectancies may contribute to differences in risk-taking during laboratory risk-taking assessments.