Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Research on adolescence has largely focused on the particular biological and neural changes that place teens at risk for negative outcomes linked to increases in sensation-seeking and risky behavior. However, there is a growing interest in the adaptive function of adolescence, with work highlighting the dual nature of adolescence as a period of potential risk and opportunity. We examined how behavioral and neural sensitivity to risk and reward varies as a function of age using the Balloon Analog Risk Task. Seventy-seven children and adolescents (ages 8–17 years) completed the Balloon Analog Risk Task during an fMRI session. Results indicate that adolescents show greater learning throughout the task. Furthermore, older participants showed increased neural responses to reward in the OFC and ventral striatum, increased activation to risk in the mid-cingulate cortex, as well as increased functional OFC–medial PFC coupling in both risk and reward contexts. Age-related changes in regional activity and interregional connectivity explain the link between age and increases in flexible learning. These results support the idea that adolescents' sensitivity to risk and reward supports adaptive learning and behavioral approaches for reward acquisition.