Abstract

The nature of immature reward processing and the influence of rewards on basic elements of cognitive control during adolescence are currently not well understood. Here, during functional magnetic resonance imaging, healthy adolescents and adults performed a modified antisaccade task in which trial-by-trial reward contingencies were manipulated. The use of a novel fast, event-related design enabled developmental differences in brain function underlying temporally distinct stages of reward processing and response inhibition to be assessed. Reward trials compared with neutral trials resulted in faster correct inhibitory responses across ages and in fewer inhibitory errors in adolescents. During reward trials, the blood oxygen level–dependent signal was attenuated in the ventral striatum in adolescents during cue assessment, then overactive during response preparation, suggesting limitations during adolescence in reward assessment and heightened reactivity in anticipation of reward compared with adults. Importantly, heightened activity in the frontal cortex along the precentral sulcus was also observed in adolescents during reward-trial response preparation, suggesting reward modulation of oculomotor control regions supporting correct inhibitory responding. Collectively, this work characterizes specific immaturities in adolescent brain systems that support reward processing and describes the influence of reward on inhibitory control. In sum, our findings suggest mechanisms that may underlie adolescents’ vulnerability to poor decision-making and risk-taking behavior.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.5/uk/) which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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