Longitudinal changes in behavioral approach system sensitivity and brain structures involved in reward processing during adolescence

Dev Psychol. 2012 Sep;48(5):1488-500. doi: 10.1037/a0027502. Epub 2012 Mar 5.


Figure 2 was distorted in production. The correct version is presented in the erratum.] Adolescence is a period of radical normative changes and increased risk for substance use, mood disorders, and physical injury. Researchers have proposed that increases in reward sensitivity (i.e., sensitivity of the behavioral approach system [BAS]) and/or increases in reactivity to all emotional stimuli (i.e., reward and threat sensitivities) lead to these phenomena. The present study is the first longitudinal investigation of changes in reward (i.e., BAS) sensitivity in 9- to 23-year-olds across a 2-year follow-up. Support was found for increased reward sensitivity from early to late adolescence, and evidence was found for decline in the early 20s. This decline is combined with a decrease in left nucleus accumbens (Nacc) volume, a key structure for reward processing, from the late teens into the early 20s. Furthermore, we found longitudinal increases in sensitivity to reward to be predicted by individual differences in the Nacc and medial orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) volumes at baseline in this developmental sample. Similarly, increases in sensitivity to threat (i.e., behavioral inhibition system sensitivity) were qualified by sex, with only females participants experiencing this increase, and predicted by individual differences in lateral OFC volumes at baseline.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development*
  • Age Factors
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Reward*
  • Sex Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult