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Adolescent Brain Respond Differently to Rewards

A new study out of the University of Pittsburgh has discovered that the adolescent brain responds differently to reward. This discovery could change what researchers know about early addiction and mental illness.

Researchers at Pitt were trying to learn if the adolescent brain processes salient events differently than the adult brain does. They found that the adolescent brain does, and that process could make them vulnerable to risky behavior and poor decision-making. It could also make them more susceptible to diseases such as addiction, schizophrenia, or eating disorders.

Bita Moghaddam, professor of neuroscience and author of the study, published this week in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, said they found that when doing a task and receiving a reward, the adolescent brain's dorsal striatum region was activated. Not so in adults.

"This finding suggests that in adolescence, reward anticipation could have a far stronger effect on decision-making than the brain of adults," she said.

Moghaddam said this is one of the first steps in a long process of trying to fully understand the way the brain works. She said researchers need to know how the adolescent brain processes information, a field in which little research has been done.

"Our emphasis in both treatment and research has been to try to treat the disease after its been developed, whether addiction, depression, or schizophrenia, wheras by understanding what happens in adolescence we can prevent these conditions from happening," she said.

The National Institutes of Mental Health funded the study.