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The effect of social rank feedback on risk taking and associated reward processes in adolescent girls.

  • Author(s): Op de Macks, Zdena A;
  • Bunge, Silvia A;
  • Bell, Orly N;
  • Kriegsfeld, Lance J;
  • Kayser, Andrew S;
  • Dahl, Ronald E
  • et al.

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The onset of adolescence is associated with an increased tendency to engage in risky behaviors and a developmental shift toward peers that contributes to increased prioritization for learning about and achieving social status. There is relatively little understanding about the specific links between these adolescent-typical phenomena, particularly regarding their neural underpinnings. Based on existing models that suggest the role of puberty in promoting adolescent status-seeking and risk-taking tendencies, we investigated the relation of pubertal hormones with behavioral and neural responses to status-relevant social information in the context of risk taking. We used a probabilistic decision task in which 11- to 13-year-old girls chose to take a risk, or not, while receiving either social rank or monetary performance feedback. While feedback type did not differentially influence risk-taking behavior, whole-brain imaging results showed that activation in the anterior insula was increased for risk taking in the social rank feedback condition compared to the monetary feedback condition. This heightened activation was more pronounced in girls with higher estradiol levels. These findings suggest that brain processes involved in adolescent risky decisions may be influenced by the desire for social-status enhancement and provide preliminary evidence for the role of pubertal hormones in enhancing this adolescent-typical social sensitivity.

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