Adolescent decision-making has been described as impulsive and suboptimal in the presence of incentives. In this study we examined the neural substrates of adolescent decision-making using a perceptual discrimination task for which small and large rewards were associated with correctly detecting the direction of motion of a cloud of moving dots. Adults showed a reward bias of faster reaction times on trials for which the direction of motion was associated with a large reward. Adolescents, in contrast, were slower to make decisions on trials associated with large rewards. This behavioral pattern in adolescents was paralleled by greater recruitment of fronto-parietal regions important in representing the accumulation of evidence sufficient for selecting one choice over its alternative and the certainty of that choice. The findings suggest that when large incentives are dependent on performance, adolescents may require more evidence to accumulate prior to responding, to be certain to maximize their gains. Adults, in contrast, appear to be quicker in evaluating the evidence for a decision when primed by rewards. Overall these findings suggest that rather than reacting hastily, adolescents can be incentivized to take more time to make decisions when large rewards are at stake.
A video abstract of this article can be viewed at http://youtu.be/1g4F5vzFDl0