Adolescence is characterized by an increase in risk-taking and reward-seeking behaviors. In other populations, increased risk taking has been associated with tighter coupling between cortisol production and ventral striatum (VS) activation during reward anticipation; this relation has not yet been examined, however, as a function of adolescent development. This study examined the influence of pubertal development on the association between diurnal cortisol production and VS activity during reward anticipation. Pre- and post-menarcheal girls collected diurnal cortisol and completed an functional magnetic resonance imaging-based monetary incentive delay task, from which we extracted estimates of VS activity during the anticipation of reward, anticipation of loss and anticipation of non-incentive neutral trials. Post-menarcheal girls showed greater coupling between the cortisol awakening response and VS activation during anticipation of reward and loss than did their pre-menarcheal counterparts. Post-menarcheal girls did not differ from pre-menarcheal girls in their cortisol-VS coupling during anticipation of neutral trials, suggesting that puberty-related changes in cortisol-VS coupling are specific to affective stimuli. Interestingly, behavioral responses during the task indicate that post-menarcheal girls are faster to engage with affective stimuli than are pre-menarcheal girls. Thus, post-menarcheal girls exhibit neurobiological and behavioral patterns that have been associated with risk taking and that may underlie the dramatic increase in risk-taking behavior documented during adolescence.
Keywords: adolescence; cortisol; reward anticipation; risk taking; ventral striatum.
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