Developmental trajectories to reduced activation of positive valence systems: A review of biological and environmental contributions

Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2020 Jun;43:100791. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2020.100791. Epub 2020 Apr 26.


Reduced activation of positive valence systems (PVS), including blunted neural and physiological responses to pleasant stimuli and rewards, has been shown to prospectively predict the development of psychopathology. Yet, little is known about how reduced PVS activation emerges across development or what implications it has for prevention. We review genetic, temperament, parenting, and naturalistic and laboratory stress research on neural measures of PVS and outline developmentally-informed models of trajectories of PVS activation. PVS function is partly heritable and appears to reflect individual differences in early-emerging temperament traits. Although lab-induced stressors blunt PVS activation, effects of parenting and naturalistic stress on PVS are mixed and depend on the type of stressor, developmental timing, and interactions amongst risk factors. We propose that there may be multiple, dynamic developmental trajectories to reduced PVS activation in which combinations of genes, temperament, and exposure to severe, prolonged, or uncontrollable stress may exert direct and interactive effects on PVS function. Critically, these risk factors may alter PVS developmental trajectories and/or PVS sensitivity to proximal stressors. Distinct factors may converge such that PVS activation proceeds along a typical, accelerated, chronically low, or stress-reactive trajectory. Finally, we present directions for future research with translational implications.

Keywords: Development; EEG; Positive valence; Reward; Stress; fMRI.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Mental Health*
  • Reward*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Temperament / physiology