Longitudinal changes in adolescent risk-taking: A comprehensive study of neural responses to rewards, pubertal development and risk-taking behavior

Authors: Barbara R. Braams, Anna C.K. van Duijvenvoorde, Jiska S. Peper, and Eveline A. Crone

Journal: Journal of Neuroscience (2015)

This Braams et al paper, from Eveline Crone’s Brain and Development lab in Leiden, sheds some important new light on a crucial set of issues about risk-taking and reward sensitivity in adolescence. The longitudinal design, large sample of normally developing youth (ages 8–27 years), along with measures of pubertal maturation and pubertal hormone levels, have allowed the authors to examine puberty-specific influences, and more specifically, to explore the role of testosterone increases at puberty. The data clearly demonstrate a quadratic relationship between age and reward-response in nucleus accumbens activity in the brain and risk-taking behavior in a laboratory task (BART) and provide strong evidence supporting a critical role for pubertal increases in testosterone in the developmental changes in self-reported reward sensitivity. Their findings showing that individual differences in pubertal development account for significant variation in the trajectory of NAcc activation, fit well with the Social Information Processing Model of adolescent development (Nelson et al., 2005) which describes risk-taking in terms of an overactive affective node, influenced by changes in hormone levels, The results also provide strong support for key aspects of the model described in Crone and Dahl 2012.

This paper (and others emerging from this important longitudinal study) are advancing our understanding of a more nuanced version of dual-process models of adolescent development. It is exciting to see the rapid progress in understanding puberty-specific components of adolescent brain development; we welcome thoughts, suggests, debate and discussion about how these results may provide further insights into the unique opportunities for social learning processes to influence the trajectory of development in adolescence.

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