LVC Students Research Connection Between Genetics and Peer Pressure Susceptibility

Getting hands-on experience while in college is beneficial for any student, no matter what career he or she is working toward. And at Lebanon Valley College, there are countless opportunities for these types of experiences. 

Neuroscience students recently conducted research to find the correlates between genetics and risk-seeking behavior, with an ultimate goal of finding prevention strategies for peer pressure-related dangerous behavior.

Headed by Dr. Michelle Niculescu, associate professor of psychology and director of neuroscience, the research group began by developing a model for peer pressure susceptibility, looking at the genetic connections to anxiety, sociability, and risk-taking through the results of test groups. Overall, they found that the personality trait linked to risk-seeking behavior is associated with a greater approval of taking part in dangerous activities, opening the doors to further the research with a grant from the Edward H. Arnold and Jeanne Donlevy Arnold Grant Program in Spring 2016.

Continuing into the Fall 2016 semester, students have dove deeper into the results from the initial study completed the previous spring. The research itself is fitting, as peer pressure and its connection to activities such as binge-drinking, sexual experimentation, and drug use are prevalent on today’s college campuses. As these types of behaviors can lead to difficult to treat illnesses and disorders, using the findings from the research to potentially develop prevention strategies in the future could positively affect the greater good. 

“I would like to look deeper into the idea of prosocial risks such as studying abroad, and how the positive aspects of peer pressure can be amplified while developing protective strategies for more dangerous risks,” Dr. Niculescu said. “We know that the best treatment for addiction is prevention, and I hope that these findings will be used to help reduce how many progress down that path.” 

Not only is the research breaking ground in the world of neuroscience, but it is also providing an outlet for students to get some real experience in their chosen fields. 

“While working on this research, I’ve gained experience in collaborating with team members as well as learning lab techniques such as DNA extraction and polymerase chain reactions,” Liz Aguilar ’17 said. “This project has also opened the doors for me to work with Dr. Niculescu on animal-based research, which will benefit me as I plan to pursue a career as an animal behaviorist.”

Dr. Niculescu presented the group’s findings at the Society for Neuroscience Meeting in San Diego this November. The final outcomes of the research will be published in a journal related to neuroscience, and the work is expected to extend into 2017.