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12. Peer victimization and dysfunctional reward processing: ERP and behavioral responses to social and monetary rewards
Peer victimization (or bullying) is a known risk factor for depression, especially among youth. However the mechanisms connecting victimization experience to depression symptoms remain unknown. Aberrant responsiveness to social rewards may be a key deficit connecting socially stressful experiences with later depression. We therefore sought to determine whether experiences with social stress would predict response to social rewards over monetary rewards. Neural responses to monetary and social rewards were measured using event-related potentials (ERPs) to peer acceptance and rejection feedback (Island Getaway task) and to monetary reward and loss feedback (Doors task) in an adolescent sample followed longitudinally since preschool. In the Island Getaway task, participants voted whether to “keep” or “kick out” each co-player, providing an index of prosocial behavior, and then received feedback about how each player voted for the participant. Analyses tested whether early and recent peer victimization (measured using the Health and Behavior Questionnaire) predicted response to rewards (peer acceptance or monetary gains), residualized for responses to losses (peer rejection or monetary losses). Findings indicated that both experiencing greater early and recent peer victimization were significantly associated with participants casting fewer votes to accept other adolescents (“Keep” votes) and that early and recent peer victimization were significantly more associated with neural response to social than monetary rewards. These findings show that early victimization is associated with later reduced response to peer acceptance, and with later tendency to reject peers. Findings suggest specificity to reward processing of different types, thus future research should take a more nuanced approach to paradigms that test reward response.