Neural correlates of developmental differences in risk estimation and feedback processing

Neuropsychologia. 2006;44(11):2158-70. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2006.02.002. Epub 2006 Mar 30.


The primary aim of this study was to compare the neural substrates of decision-making in middle-aged children and adults. To this end, we collected fMRI data while 9-12-year-olds and 18-26-year-olds performed a simple gambling task. The task was designed to tap two important aspects of decision-making: risk estimation and feedback processing. We examined how orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) contributed to risk estimation, and how ventrolateral and medial prefrontal cortices (VLPFC and medial PFC) contributed to negative feedback processing in children and adults. Region of interest analyses revealed differences in brain activation between children and adults for ACC and lateral OFC. ACC was recruited more for high-risk than for low-risk trials, and this difference was larger for children than for adults. In contrast, children and adults did not differ in activation for OFC or DLPFC. These data suggest that children's decision-making under uncertainty is associated with a high degree of response conflict. Both age groups exhibited bilateral VLPFC (BA 47) and medial PFC/ACC (BA 6/ BA 32 (dorsal) and 24 (ventral)) activation associated with negative feedback processing. Relative to adults, children engaged lateral OFC more strongly for negative relative to positive feedback. These results indicate that children may find negative feedback more aversive than adults do. In summary, children aged 9-12 years and adults recruit similar brain regions during risk-estimation and feedback processing, but some key differences between the groups provide insight into the factors contributing to developmental changes in decision-making.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Child
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Feedback / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / growth & development
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / growth & development
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / growth & development
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Risk-Taking*