Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Adolescents' Susceptibility to Maternal and Peer Influence

  • Author(s): Thomas, April Gile
  • Advisor(s): Cauffman, Elizabeth
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License

Adolescence is a time of heightened risk taking and vulnerability to social influence. Research has demonstrated the effects of social influence on adolescents’ risk taking; however, most research has focused on the effects of peer influence, with less known about the direct effects of parental influence on adolescent risk. The present study uses an experimental design to examine the effect of indirect and direct maternal and peer influence on adolescents’ risk taking on two behavioral tasks.

Adolescent participants were recruited from Orange County, CA via flyer distribution and snowball sampling. Participants (N=97) were eligible for the study if they spoke fluent English, aged 13-14 or 16-17 years, and had an English-speaking mother or female guardian and English-speaking friend of the same grade and gender who were willing to complete the study with the participant. Participants were randomly assigned to complete the study in one of four conditions: alone, with their friend, with their mother, or with both their friend and mother. Laboratory sessions were completed at the University of California, Irvine campus. Participants completed two behavioral tasks (one under conditions of indirect influence and one under conditions of direct influence) to assess the effects of maternal and peer influence on adolescent risk behavior, as well as a battery of self-report assessments.

Although no effect of indirect maternal or peer influence was observed in the present analyses, results indicate that direct negative influence from mothers or friends increased adolescents’ risk taking. Adolescents in the mother-only and friend-only conditions took more risks than adolescents in the no influence condition; however, there were no differences in risk behavior when both the mother and friend were present. The effect of social influence on adolescent risk was consistent between the two age groups. Maternal hostility moderated the effect of direct influence on adolescents’ risk behavior, such that mothers who were perceived as more hostile had less influence over adolescents’ risk taking than mothers who were perceived as less hostile. These findings reveal that adolescents’ mothers and friends serve as highly influential figures and both have the capacity to increase adolescents’ engagement in risky behavior.

Main Content
Current View