The maturation of incentive processing and cognitive control

Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2009 Sep;93(3):212-21. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2009.01.021.


Understanding how immaturities in the reward system affect decision-making can inform us on adolescent vulnerabilities to risk-taking, which is a primary contributor to mortality and substance abuse in this age group. In this paper, we review the literature characterizing the neurodevelopment of reward and cognitive control and propose a model for adolescent reward processing. While the functional neuroanatomy of the mature reward system has been well-delineated, adolescent reward processing is just beginning to be understood. Results indicate that adolescents relative to adults demonstrate decreased anticipatory processing and assessment of risk, but an increased consummatory response. Such differences could result in suboptimal representations of reward valence and value and bias adolescent decision-making. These functional differences in reward processing occur in parallel with on-going structural and pharmacological maturation in the adolescent brain. In addition to limitations in incentive processing, basic cognitive control abilities, including working memory and inhibitory control, continue to mature during adolescence. Consequently, adolescents may be limited, relative to adults, in their abilities to inhibit impulsive behaviors and reliably hold 'on-line' comparisons of potential rewards/punishments during decision-making.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Brain / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Reward*