Developmental effects of decision-making on sensitivity to reward: An fMRI study

Johanna M. Jarcho, Brenda E. Benson, Rista C. Plate, Amanda E. Guyer, Allison M. Detloff, Daniel S. Pine, Ellen Leibenluft, Monique Ernst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Studies comparing neural correlates of reward processing across development yield inconsistent findings. This challenges theories characterizing adolescents as globally hypo- or hypersensitive to rewards. Developmental differences in reward sensitivity may fluctuate based on reward magnitude, and on whether rewards require decision-making. We examined whether these factors modulate developmental differences in neural response during reward anticipation and/or receipt in 26 adolescents (14.05 ± 2.37 yrs) and 26 adults (31.25 ± 8.23 yrs). Brain activity was assessed with fMRI during reward anticipation, when subjects made responses with-vs.-without decision-making, to obtain large-vs.-small rewards, and during reward receipt. When reward-receipt required decision-making, neural activity did not differ by age. However, when reward receipt did not require decision-making, neural activity varied by development, reward magnitude, and stage of the reward task. During anticipation, adolescents, but not adults, exhibited greater activity in the insula, extending into putamen, and cingulate gyrus for large-vs.-small incentives. During feedback, adults, but not adolescents, exhibited greater activity in the precuneus for large-vs.-small incentives. These data indicate that age-related differences in reward sensitivity cannot be characterized by global hypo- or hyper-responsivity. Instead, neural responding in striatum, prefrontal cortex and precuneus is influenced by both situational demands and developmental factors. This suggests nuanced maturational effects in adolescent reward sensitivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)437-447
Number of pages11
JournalDevelopmental Cognitive Neuroscience
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescents
  • Brain
  • Decision-making
  • Development
  • Incentive
  • Reward
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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