Adolescent risk taking has been known to increase in the presence of peers. We hypothesized that peer interaction reduces the activation of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) that is required for self-regulation of reward-driven behavior. We also expected that mPFC activity would be reduced more in those with greater surgency, a composite trait of behavioral approach, sensation seeking and positive affect. In our study, 20 15-year-old boys played a simulated driving video game alone and in the presence of peers who were encouraged to call out advice while we recorded the feedback-related negativity (FRN) event-related potential in response to an impending car crash. FRN amplitude was reduced both as a function of peer presence and increased surgency. More importantly, we also calculated intracerebral current source density at the time of the FRNs, and found that both greater surgency and peer presence are associated with reduced activity specifically in the mPFC. Riskier performance resulting in more car crashes resulted from the presence of peers only as an interaction with surgency, this interaction being related strongly to reduced activity in the ventromedial PFC.
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