Feedback Processing in Adolescence: An Event-Related Potential Study of Age and Gender Differences

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Adolescence has frequently been characterized as a period of increased risk taking, which may be largely driven by maturational changes in neural areas that process incentives. To investigate age- and gender-related differences in reward processing, we recorded event-related potentials (ERPs) from 80 participants in a gambling game, in which monetary wins and losses were either large or small. We measured two ERP components: the feedback-related negativity (FRN) and the feedback P3 (fP3). The FRN was sensitive to the size of a win in both adult (aged 23-35 years) and adolescent (aged 13-17 years) males, but not in females. Small wins appeared to be less rewarding for males than for females, which may in part explain more approach-driven behavior in males in general. Furthermore, adolescent boys showed both delayed FRNs to high losses and less differentiation in FRN amplitude between wins and losses in comparison to girls. The fP3, which is thought to index the salience of the feedback at a more conscious level than the FRN, was also larger in boys than in girls. Taken together, these results imply that higher levels of risk taking that are commonly reported in adolescent males may be driven both by hypersensitivity to high rewards and insensitivity to punishment or losses.



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