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Brain Maturation and Risky Behavior: The Promise and the Challenges of Neuroimaging-Based Accounts


  • The views expressed are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views or policy of the US DHHS. We would like to thank Barbara Usher, NIDA/NIH/DHHS, for her thoughtful comments on this article.
  • James M. Bjork, Karen Sirocco, and Cheryl A. Boyce are NIH/US Federal Government employees. This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to James M. Bjork, NIDA/NIH/DHHS, 6001 Executive Blvd, Bethesda, MD 20892; e-mail:


Emerging brain-imaging findings suggest that developmental differences in the structure and activity of brain regions involved in motivation and behavior control may contribute to risky behavior in adolescence. Adolescence may be characterized by robust motivational neurocircuitry that is relatively unhindered by developing cognitive control neurocircuitry. However, how developmental differences in brain structure or function depend on task features or other experimental contexts, or whether observed differences are functionally relevant for real-world risky behavior, is not well understood. The challenge of attributing adolescent risk taking to developmental patterns of brain morphology and brain activity underscores the need for future research sensitive to development and the contexts of adolescence.