A neural systems model of decision making in adolescents

Monique Ernst

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter focuses on a heuristic neural systems model of motivated behaviour. This model provides hypotheses for mechanisms underlying changes in behaviour across development and psychopathology. The fractal triadic model (FTM) posits that goaldirected behaviour results from the interaction among three nodes of behavioural control. These three functional nodes are centred on the amygdala, striatum, and medial prefrontal cortex, which contribute to avoidance, approach, and modulation, respectively. They feed two distinct neural circuits: one that is modulated primarily by appetitive stimuli and serves approach behaviour, and one that is modulated primarily by aversive stimuli and serves avoidance behaviour. The behavioural output results from the integration of the information that is processed by these two neural circuits and is submitted to the control of the supervisory node. Such organization of three functional nodes subserving two neural circuits relies on the well-described structural and functional heterogeneity of these nodes. In addition, asynchrony in the maturational trajectories not only among the nodes, but also among the subunits of these nodes, is the central principle that underlies the typical behavioural changes seen in adolescence. Functional neuroimaging research is beginning to examine ontogenic changes in neural responses to reward-related processes that can further inform this heuristic model. The chapter addresses the major points mentioned above and ends with selected questions proposed as priority for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationDecision Making, Affect, and Learning
Subtitle of host publicationAttention and Performance XXIII
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780191725623
ISBN (Print)9780199600434
StatePublished - May 1 2011


  • Adolescence
  • Fractal triadic model
  • Heuristic neural systems model
  • Motivated behaviour
  • Neural circuits
  • Teenagers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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