Adolescence is a period of radical normative changes and increased risk for substance use, mood disorders, and physical injury. Researchers have proposed that increases in reward sensitivity (i.e., sensitivity of the behavioral approach system [BAS]) and/or increases in reactivity to all emotional stimuli (i.e., reward and threat sensitivities) lead to these phenomena. The present study is the first longitudinal investigation of changes in reward (i.e., BAS) sensitivity in 9- to 23-year-olds across a 2-year follow-up. Support was found for increased reward sensitivity from early to late adolescence, and evidence was found for decline in the early 20s. This decline is combined with a decrease in left nucleus accumbens (Nacc) volume, a key structure for reward processing, from the late teens into the early 20s. Furthermore, we found longitudinal increases in sensitivity to reward to be predicted by individual differences in the Nacc and medial orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) volumes at baseline in this developmental sample. Similarly, increases in sensitivity to threat (i.e., behavioral inhibition system sensitivity) were qualified by sex, with only females participants experiencing this increase, and predicted by individual differences in lateral OFC volumes at baseline.
- Behavioral approach system (BAS)
- Reward sensitivity