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115. Risk-Taking and Neural Response to Reward across Adolescence
Risk-taking peaks in adolescence and is thought to reflect hyperactivity of the brain’s reward system. However, it has not been established whether reward-related brain activity is differentially associated with risk-taking across adolescence. The present study investigated how neural sensitivity to reward is associated with laboratory risk-taking throughout adolescence as a function of age. Adolescents (n = 72) ages 10-19 (M = 13.82) completed the Balloon Analogue Risk Task, which indexes risk-taking behavior. Participants also completed a monetary gambling task while the electroencephalogram was recorded. This task elicits the reward positivity (RewP), a frontocentral event-related potential component that is more positive to gains than losses and indexes reward sensitivity. Consistent with previous research, we observed a negative quadratic association between age and risk-taking, such that those in early and late adolescence had lower relative risk-taking compared to mid-adolescence, with risk-taking peaking around age 15. In predicting risk-taking, we also observed an interaction between age and the RewP. The RewP was not associated with risk-taking in early adolescence, but a larger RewP was associated with a greater propensity for risk in later adolescence. These findings suggest that neural reward sensitivity is an important factor in predicting risk-taking only later in adolescent development.