Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Adolescent risk-taking is a public health issue that increases the odds of poor lifetime outcomes. One factor thought to influence adolescents' propensity for risk-taking is an enhanced sensitivity to appetitive cues, relative to an immature capacity to exert sufficient cognitive control. We tested this hypothesis by characterizing interactions among ventral striatal, dorsal striatal, and prefrontal cortical regions with varying appetitive load using fMRI scanning. Child, teen, and adult participants performed a go/no-go task with appetitive (happy faces) and neutral cues (calm faces). Impulse control to neutral cues showed linear improvement with age, whereas teens showed a nonlinear reduction in impulse control to appetitive cues. This performance decrement in teens was paralleled by enhanced activity in the ventral striatum. Prefrontal cortical recruitment correlated with overall accuracy and showed a linear response with age for no-go versus go trials. Connectivity analyses identified a ventral frontostriatal circuit including the inferior frontal gyrus and dorsal striatum during no-go versus go trials. Examining recruitment developmentally showed that teens had greater between-subject ventral-dorsal striatal coactivation relative to children and adults for happy no-go versus go trials. These findings implicate exaggerated ventral striatal representation of appetitive cues in adolescents relative to an intermediary cognitive control response. Connectivity and coactivity data suggest these systems communicate at the level of the dorsal striatum differentially across development. Biased responding in this system is one possible mechanism underlying heightened risk-taking during adolescence.