Dopaminergic reward sensitivity can promote adolescent health: A new perspective on the mechanism of ventral striatum activation

Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2016 Feb;17:57-67. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2015.10.010. Epub 2015 Nov 24.


The prevailing view in the field of adolescent brain development is that heightened activity in the mesolimbic dopaminergic reward system serves as a liability, orienting adolescents toward risky behaviors, increasing their sensitivity to social evaluation and loss, and resulting in compromised well-being. Several findings inconsistent with this deficit view challenge the perspective that adolescent reward sensitivity largely serves as a liability and highlights the potential adaptive function that heightened striatal reactivity can serve. The goal of this review is to refine our understanding of dopaminergic reward sensitivity in adolescence. I review several studies showing that ventral striatum activation serves an adaptive function for adolescents' health and well being relating to declines in both risk taking and depression and increases in cognitive persistence and achievement.

Keywords: Adolescence; Brain development; Health; Rewards; Risk taking.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development / physiology*
  • Adolescent Health*
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Child
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Reward*
  • Risk-Taking
  • Ventral Striatum / metabolism*


  • Dopamine