Send to

Choose Destination
Emotion. 2016 Apr;16(3):338-48. doi: 10.1037/emo0000122. Epub 2015 Nov 2.

Do losses loom larger for children than adults?

Author information

Psychology Department, Stony Brook University.
Section on Development and Affective Neuroscience, National Institute of Mental Health.
Department of Psychiatry, Washington University in St. Louis.
Department of Psychology, Washington University in St. Louis.


The large impact of loss of reward on behavior has been well documented in adult populations. However, whether responsiveness to loss relative to gain is similarly elevated in child versus adult populations remains unclear. It is also unclear whether relations between incentive behaviors and self-reported reward/punishment sensitivity are similar within different developmental stages. To investigate these questions, 7- to 10-year-old children (N = 70) and young adults (N = 70) completed the Behavioral Inhibition System/Behavioral Activation System (BIS/BAS) scale, along with 2 probabilistic incentive tasks assessing gain approach and loss avoidance behavior. BIS/BAS subscales were calculated per Pagliaccio et al. (2015), which established an age invariant model of the BIS/BAS. Bias toward responses more frequently followed by gain feedback and away from responses more frequently followed by loss feedback, approach, and avoidance behavior, respectively, were quantified via signal detection statistics. Gain approach behavior did not differ across age groups; however, children exhibited significantly elevated loss avoidance relative to adults. Children also showed greater reductions in accuracy and slower RTs specifically following loss feedback relative to adults. Interestingly, despite age group differences in loss avoidance behavior, relations between self-report measures and approach/avoidance behaviors were similar across age groups. Participants reporting elevated motivation (BAS Drive) showed both elevated gain approach and elevated loss avoidance, with both types of behavior predicting unique variance in BAS Drive. Results highlight the often-neglected developmental and motivational roles of responsiveness to loss of reward.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for American Psychological Association Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center