Here’s the pull quote: “young teenagers ran about 40 percent more yellow lights and had 60 percent more crashes when they knew their friends were watching” from an amusing article about an experiment into the effect of friends on behavior. The experiment involved two groups – teens and adults – in two settings – alone and with friends watching. Actually – in conformance with standard practice – experimenters lied; the friends weren’t actually watching.
This is a very nice result, but it seems to me that the article, and presumably the experimenters, didn’t spin up enough insta-theories for why there might be this difference.
The motivation for playing this game presumably falls into three buckets – playing by the rules to maximize your score and cash reward, having fun, and finally using the game experience as an token in your social relationships.
The player is juggling these motivations as he tunes the style of his play. I think that teens are more aware of these three sources of reward than adults are, having played more games, and more games in a social setting. Further I think that teens have a more nuanced awareness that games are, well games; and are more likely to discount the point/cash reward aspect of the game. They are more playful.
Of course the experimenters did this entire exercise inside a brain scanner. The data shows the teens had more fun than the adults.
So, the articles conclusion, that this shows how peer pressure leads teens to take more risks, seems excessive to me.
This is a very nice result, but it seems to me that the article, and presumably the experimenters, didnâ€™t spin up enough insta-theories for why there might be this difference.
To be sure, that’s because science works exactly the opposite way. First you write a hypothesis, then you design an experiment to test it, then you tell the world whether you proved or disproved your hypothesis. Scavenging for interesting-looking data may give you interesting sounding ideas, there will always be a random outlier data subset that seems interesting and will allow you to construct elaborate flights of fancy that are simply a response to random noise.
How science works seems, to me, a lot more complex than that.
But heh. I forgot to mention the motivation of the Times. The Times knows where their bread is buttered. Their readers are an aging lot and science has shown that what makes the mature happy is to read stories about how screwed up today’s youth is.
A discussion of *why* teens run more red lights when the think their friends are around, which doesn’t consider prospective reproductive success? Lame.
If I’m 17, and a substantial proportion of my peer group is watching, the internal calculus likely goes to maximizing partner number. The end and the means both come with rich endorphin rewards, for basic pro-biology reasons.
People in senescence may typically be low-quality, high-failure breeders, so there may not be worth the genetic investment to keep the endorphin reward system working fully.