A cross-sectional and longitudinal analysis of reward-related brain activation: effects of age, pubertal stage, and reward sensitivity

Brain Cogn. 2014 Aug;89:3-14. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2013.10.005. Epub 2014 Feb 7.


Neurobiological models suggest that adolescents are driven by an overactive ventral striatum (VS) response to rewards that may lead to an adolescent increase in risk-taking behavior. However, empirical studies showed mixed findings of adolescents' brain response to rewards. In this study, we aimed to elucidate the relationship between reward-related brain activation and risky decision-making. In addition, we examined effects of age, puberty, and individuals' reward sensitivity. We collected two datasets: Experiment 1 reports cross-sectional brain data from 75 participants (ages 10-25) who played a risky decision task. Experiment 2 presents a longitudinal extension in which a subset of these adolescents (n=33) was measured again 2years later. Results showed that (1) a reward-related network including VS and medial PFC was consistently activated over time, (2) the propensity to choose the risky option was related to increased reward-related activation in VS and medial PFC, and (3) longitudinal comparisons indicated that self-reported reward sensitivity was specifically related to VS activation over time. Together, these results advance our insights in the brain circuitry underlying reward processing across adolescence.

Keywords: Adolescence; BAS-score; Functional connectivity; Medial prefrontal cortex; Risk taking; Ventral striatum.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Brain Mapping
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Puberty
  • Reward*
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Ventral Striatum / physiology*
  • Young Adult