The social environment plays an increasingly important role in adolescence. Peers have an increasing influence on behavior. In this age phase, a considerably greater proportion of time is spent with peers than in childhood. The friendships become more personal and intimate. Adolescents find it important to exchange ideas and discuss things with each other. In this sense, social media also play an important role. The change in social behavior during adolescence is the result of an evolutionary system that causes individuals to become more peer-oriented as they reach sexual maturity. The strong focus on peers is a choice to invest in the future. You ultimately have to prove yourself in the world of your peers and not in the world of your parents.
Adolescents' unique characteristics stem from genes and developmental processes selected through thousands of generations. In addition to natural selection, sexual selection plays an important role. It's about protecting the genes or at least the genes of the family
From the age of fourteen, young people enter the stage where social relationships become increasingly important. The brains of adolescents are hypersensitive to oxytocin. This substance ensures, among other things, that social contacts are experienced as pleasant. The neural networks that play a role in rewards and social contacts overlap greatly. When one network is activated, the other often also comes into operation.
Until the age of two to twenty-three, the realization then develops that an individual also has responsibilities within a social system. Adolescents learn to use social rules according to the principle: "What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others!"
Adolescents are increasingly able to put themselves in someone else's shoes. They are able to juxtapose different perspectives. They can better empathize with the thoughts of others due to an increasing sense of empathy. A great change therefore takes place in the nature of their friendships. Their friendships are based on principles of reciprocity. Interdependence in the friendship relationship is respected.
The moral process is shaped partly genetically and partly by culture. The genetic component provides neural networks that elicit universal moral behaviors such as empathy and reciprocity. Other neural networks make people sensitive at some point in their lives to learn certain moral values that apply in their society. That learning process starts early.
Children already have a list of prohibited actions at the age of two, while at the age of three they can already deal with concepts such as good and evil. Between the ages of three and six, they develop feelings of guilt and learn to distinguish between absolute standards and mere conventions.
Based on experiences with people with damage to a certain brain region, one can conclude that there is a special neural circuit for moral decisions and for moral aversion in the brain. The orbitofrontal cortex plays an important role in this. The orbitofrontal cortex has many connections to the amygdala. The orbitofrontal cortex is part of an emotional network in the brain, which is responsible for processing and controlling emotional stimuli. Antonio Damasio believes that the orbitofrontal cortex is important for making decisions based on feedback of socially and emotionally relevant information. Damasio linked his theory of somatic markers to this.