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Dev Psychol. 2012 May;48(3):844-61. doi: 10.1037/a0027432. Epub 2012 Mar 5.

Dopaminergic modulation of incentive motivation in adolescence: age-related changes in signaling, individual differences, and implications for the development of self-regulation.

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Department of Psychology and Center for Neurobehavioral Development, University of Minnesota, USA.


Behavioral activation that is associated with incentive-reward motivation increases in adolescence relative to childhood and adulthood. This quadratic developmental pattern is generally supported by behavioral and experimental neuroscience findings. It is suggested that a focus on changes in dopamine neurotransmission is informative in understanding the mechanism for this adolescent increase in reward-related behavioral activation and subsequent decline into adulthood. Evidence is presented to indicate that incentive-reward motivation is modulated by mesoaccumbens dopamine, and that it increases in adolescence before declining into adulthood because of normative developmental changes at the molecular level. Potential mechanisms of variation in functional mesoaccumbens dopamine transmission are discussed with a focus on the interplay between tonic and phasic modes of dopamine transmission in modulating both general incentive-motivational biases and the efficacy of reward learning during exposure to novel reward experiences. Interactions between individual difference factors and these age-related trends are discussed.

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