The study by University of Nottingham researchers suggests that improved connections across brain regions involved in decision-making may trigger an individual's ability to oppose the influence of peers.
The study, published in the July 25 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, indicates that brain regions which control different aspects of behaviour are more interconnected in children with high resistance to peer influence.
Professor Tomas Paus and colleagues at The University of Nottingham used functional neuroimaging to examine adolescents while they watched video clips of neutral or angry hand and face movements.
Professor Paus and his team observed 35 ten-year-olds with high and low resistance to peer influence, calculated by a questionnaire. The researchers then showed the children video clips of angry hand movements and angry faces and measured their brain activity.
They found that the brains of all children showed activity in regions important for planning and extracting information about social cues from movement, but the connectivity within these regions was stronger in children who were marked as less susceptible to peer influence.
Those children were also found to have more activity in the prefrontal cortex, an area important for decision-making and inhibition of unwanted behaviour.
"This is important if we are to understand how the adolescent brain attains the right balance between acknowledging the influences of others and maintaining one's independence," Professor Paus says.
Future research will involve follow-ups with the same children to find out whether their opposition to peer influence is related to the brain changes observed in this study.
The work was a supported by grants from the Santa Fe Institute Consortium and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.