priate timing for increased autonomy during adolescence varies across cultures (e.g., Feldman and Rosenthal, 1990). Individuals adapt and modify their identities to enable them to function best in their particular social and cultural context (Baumeister and Muraven, 1996). Adolescents may “try on” various identities that will be defined, in part, by how time is spent and with whom it is spent. While constructing an identity, an adolescent’s motivation may be to gain new experiences that will allow them to evaluate what fits and what does not with their newly developing identities. This process allows them to create adult selves that are realistic and comfortable (Curry et al., 1994). During this period, adolescents report having a “true self” (who they really are inside) and a “false self” (who they want other people to think they are, to impress or please them) (Harter et al., 1996). At this point, adolescents may knowingly make choices that they know they may later regret “just to see what it is like,” to act more like an adult, or to impress others (e.g., Moffit, 1993). Some of these choices are likely to involve alcohol consumption.
In order to understand the shifts that adolescents are undergoing, it is important to consider both changes in cognition and in the social world in which adolescents find themselves during this period.
Cognitive changes during adolescence include gradual improvements in social perspective, to about age 16 (Steinberg and Cauffman, 1996). These newfound perspective-taking skills allow an adolescent to recognize how the thoughts and actions of one person influence those of another and to imagine how others might perceive them. Although generally an indicator of greater maturity, a downside of this new ability is that adolescents are highly concerned with peer conformity, which may make them particularly susceptible to peer influence. The majority of studies indicate a positive relationship between susceptibility to peer pressure and risk-taking behavior (such as drinking). For reasons not yet known, there is variation in the extent to which adolescents succumb to social influence, including pressure to engage in behaviors that are undesirable (see Steinberg and Cauffman, 1996, for a review).
In general, thinking becomes more abstract and more future-oriented during adolescence, allowing adolescents to consider multiple aspects of any decision at one time, assess potential consequences of a decision, consider possible outcomes associated with various choices, and plan for the future. These cognitive changes enhance the adolescent’s capacity for competent decision making (see, for example, Halpern-Felsher and Cauffman, 2001; Steinberg and Cauffman, 1996). However, these newly formed competencies are not always practiced when adolescents are confronted with