Emily Barkley-Levenson and Adriana Galván
PNAS. January 28, 2014 vol. 111 no. 4
Previous work shows that the adolescent reward system is hyperactive, but this finding may be confounded by differences in how teens value money. To address this, we examined the neural ontogeny of objective value representation. Adolescent and adult participants performed a monetary gambling task in which they chose to accept or reject gambles of varying expected value. Increasing expected value had a stronger influence over gambling choices in adolescents relative to adults, an effect that was paralleled by greater activation in the ventral striatum in adolescents. This unique adolescent ventral striatum response remained even after matching groups on acceptance behavior. These behavioral and neural data suggest that the value of available options has a greater influence in adolescent versus adult choices, even when objective value and subjective choice are held constant. This research provides further evidence that hyperactivation of reward circuitry in adolescence may be a normative ontogenetic shift that is due to greater valuation in the adolescent brain.