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A Neural Correlate of Strategic Exploration at the Onset of Adolescence.


The onset of adolescence is associated with an increase in the behavioral tendency to explore and seek novel experiences. However, this exploration has rarely been quantified, and its neural correlates during this period remain unclear. Previously, activity within specific regions of the rostrolateral PFC (rlPFC) in adults has been shown to correlate with the tendency for exploration. Here we investigate a recently developed task to assess individual differences in strategic exploration, defined as the degree to which the relative uncertainty of rewards directs responding toward less well-evaluated choices, in 62 girls aged 11-13 years from whom resting state fMRI data were obtained in a separate session. Behaviorally, this task divided our participants into groups of explorers (n = 41) and nonexplorers (n = 21). When seed ROIs within the rlPFC were used to interrogate resting state fMRI data, we identified a lateralized connection between the rlPFC and posterior putamen/insula whose strength differentiated explorers from nonexplorers. On the basis of Granger causality analyses, the preponderant direction of influence may proceed from posterior to anterior. Together, these data provide initial evidence concerning the neural basis of exploratory tendencies at the onset of adolescence.

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