A time of change: behavioral and neural correlates of adolescent sensitivity to appetitive and aversive environmental cues

Brain Cogn. 2010 Feb;72(1):124-33. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2009.07.003. Epub 2009 Aug 19.


Adolescence is a developmental period that entails substantial changes in affective and incentive-seeking behavior relative to both childhood and adulthood, including a heightened propensity to engage in risky behaviors and experience persistent negative and labile mood states. This review discusses the emotional and incentive-driven behavioral changes in adolescents and their associated neural mechanisms, focusing on the dynamic interactions between the amygdala, ventral striatum, and prefrontal cortex. Common behavioral changes during adolescence may be associated with a heightened responsiveness to incentives and emotional cues while the capacity to effectively engage in cognitive and emotion regulation is still relatively immature. We highlight empirical work in humans and animals that addresses the interactions between these neural systems in adolescents relative to children and adults, and propose a neurobiological model that may account for the nonlinear changes in adolescent behavior. Finally, we discuss other influences that may contribute to exaggerated reward and emotion processing associated with adolescence, including hormonal fluctuations and the role of the social environment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Animals
  • Behavior / physiology*
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Environment
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological