Neural systems underlying motivated behavior in adolescence: Implications for preventive medicine

Jessica M. Richards, Rista C. Plate, Monique Ernst

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Objective: Although a time of increased independence and autonomy, adolescence is also a time of vulnerabilities, through increased risk-taking and the emergence of psychopathology. Neurodevelopmental changes during this period may provide a neurobiological basis for this normative rise in deleterious behaviors. Thus, the objective of this review was to identify neurodevelopmental processes underlying the emergence of risk-taking and psychopathology in adolescence, and discuss implications of these findings for prevention. Method: This article reviews literature examining developmental and contextual factors influencing neural functioning in systems mediating threat, reward, and cognitive control. This literature is discussed from the perspective of the Triadic Neural Systems Model of motivated behavior. Results: Neuroimaging research suggests that neurodevelopmental and contextual factors both contribute to a shift in the functional equilibrium among the Triadic nodes. This equilibrium shift may contribute to negative outcomes of adolescent risk behavior. Most importantly, the balance of this equilibrium and its sensitivity to social and appetitive contexts may be exploited to facilitate prevention of deleterious outcomes. Conclusion: Understanding developmental and contextual factors that influence functioning in motivational neural circuits can inform research on adolescent risk-taking, and may provide targets for novel preventions, for example through the use of incentives to reduce deleterious outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S7-S16
JournalPreventive Medicine
Issue numberSUPPL.
StatePublished - Nov 1 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Amygdala
  • Development
  • Neuroimaging
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Prevention
  • Risk-taking
  • Striatum
  • Triadic Model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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