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Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2013 Jan;3:45-52. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2012.08.004. Epub 2012 Sep 3.

Ventral striatum activation to prosocial rewards predicts longitudinal declines in adolescent risk taking.

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Department of Psychology, University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, United States.


Adolescence is a period of intensified emotions and an increase in motivated behaviors and passions. Evidence from developmental neuroscience suggests that this heightened emotionality occurs, in part, due to a peak in functional reactivity to rewarding stimuli, which renders adolescents more oriented toward reward-seeking behaviors. Most prior work has focused on how reward sensitivity may create vulnerabilities, leading to increases in risk taking. Here, we test whether heightened reward sensitivity may potentially be an asset for adolescents when engaged in prosocial activities. Thirty-two adolescents were followed over a one-year period to examine whether ventral striatum activation to prosocial rewards predicts decreases in risk taking over a year. Results show that heightened ventral striatum activation to prosocial stimuli relates to longitudinal declines in risk taking. Therefore, the very same neural region that has conferred vulnerability for adolescent risk taking may also be protective against risk taking.

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