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Decision-making in the adolescent brain


Adolescence is characterized by making risky decisions. Early lesion and neuroimaging studies in adults pointed to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and related structures as having a key role in decision-making. More recent studies have fractionated decision-making processes into its various components, including the representation of value, response selection (including inter-temporal choice and cognitive control), associative learning, and affective and social aspects. These different aspects of decision-making have been the focus of investigation in recent studies of the adolescent brain. Evidence points to a dissociation between the relatively slow, linear development of impulse control and response inhibition during adolescence versus the nonlinear development of the reward system, which is often hyper-responsive to rewards in adolescence. This suggests that decision-making in adolescence may be particularly modulated by emotion and social factors, for example, when adolescents are with peers or in other affective ('hot') contexts.

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Figure 1: Synaptic development in the human brain.
Figure 2: Relationship between response inhibitory control and decision-making in humans with large frontal lesions.
Figure 3: Major components of the human reward brain circuitry.
Figure 4: Performance on the CGT.
Figure 5: The emotional go/no-go task.
Figure 6: The stoplight driving game study.
Figure 7: A qualitative meta-analysis of the region of dmPFC that consistently shows decreased activity during mentalizing tasks between late childhood and adulthood.


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S.-J.B. is funded by the Royal Society and the Leverhulme Trust, UK. The Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute, Cambridge, UK is co-funded by the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust. We thank S. Burnett Heyes, I. Dumontheil, A.L. Goddings, E.J. Kilford, K. Mills and N. Wright for commenting on previous versions of the manuscript, T. Wager for help with the meta-analysis using Neurosynth (, and L. Clark, J. Chein and L. Somerville for help with figures.

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Correspondence to Sarah-Jayne Blakemore.

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T.W.R. discloses Cambridge Cognition consultancy and royalties for CANTAB. T.W.R. discloses consultancy and research grants received from E. Lilly Inc., Lundbeck and GlaxoSmithKline.

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Blakemore, SJ., Robbins, T. Decision-making in the adolescent brain. Nat Neurosci 15, 1184–1191 (2012).

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