Research highlight

A unique adolescent response to reward prediction errors

Nature Neuroscience

May 17, 2010

Adolescents are hypersensitive to neural signals that indicate an outcome is better than expected reports a paper published online in Nature Neuroscience. This signal is thought to be carried by the dopamine system―known to be important to reward processing―and implicates this system in the heightened reward seeking behaviour seen in adolescents.

Jessica Cohen and colleagues asked adolescents to perform a task, for monetary reward, in which they had to learn to associate visual images with behavioural responses. Functional magnetic resonance imaging performed during learning suggested that the brain responses correlated with events that exceeded expectations were greater in adolescents than adults.

This finding supports the theory that the risky reward-seeking behaviour that is often observed in adolescents is due to an increased sensitivity to potentially positive outcomes rather than a decreased sensitivity to potentially negative outcomes.

doi: 10.1038/nn.2558

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