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Adolescent brains show reduced reward anticipation

Adolescents show less activity than adults in brain regions that motivate behavior to obtain rewards, according to results from the first magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study to examine real-time adolescent response to incentives. The study also shows that adolescents and adults exhibit similar brain responses to having obtained rewards. Researchers in the Laboratory of Clinical Studies of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), one of the National Institutes of Health, conducted the study, which appears in the February 25 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience (Volume 24, Number 7).

"Understanding adolescent motivation is critical for understanding why so many young people drink alcohol and engage in associated behaviors such as drinking and driving and sexual risk-taking. That understanding also will be critical for shaping prevention messages that deter such behaviors," said Ting-Kai Li, M.D., Director, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "With today's report, researchers in NIAAA's Laboratory of Clinical Studies provide an important part of the picture."

In the MRI study, James Bjork, Ph.D., and others in the laboratory of Daniel Hommer, M.D., scanned the brains of twelve adolescents aged 12 to 17 years and twelve young adults aged 22 to 28 years. While being scanned, the subjects participated in a game-like scenario risking monetary gain or loss. The participants responded to targets on a screen by pressing a button to win or avoid losing 20 cents, $1, or $5.

For both age groups, the researchers found that the anticipation of potential gain activated portions of the ventral striatum, right insula, dorsal thalamus, and dorsal midbrain, with the magnitude of ventral striatum activation sensitive to gain amount. In adolescents, however, the researchers found lower activation of the right ventral striatum centered in the nucleus accumbens, a region at the base of the brain shown by earlier research (
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Contact: Ann Bradley
abradley@mail.nih.gov
301-443-0595
NIH/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
25-Feb-2004


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