Trajectories of Reinforcement Sensitivity During Adolescence and Risk for Substance Use


  • This research was funded by grants R01 DA020171 and R01 DA019631 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse awarded to Craig R. Colder. The authors thank the project coordinators (Dawn Keough and Jamee Foster) and the staff for their help with data collection, and all of the families who participated in the study.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Craig R. Colder, Department of Psychology, Park Hall, SUNY at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY 14260-4110. E-mail:


Developmental neuroscience models suggest that changes in responsiveness to incentives contribute to increases in adolescent risk behavior, including substance use. Trajectories of sensitivity to reward (SR) and sensitivity to punishment (SP) were examined and tested as predictors of escalation of early substance use in a community sample of adolescents (N = 765, mean baseline age 11.8 years, 54% female). SR and SP were assessed using a laboratory task. Across three annual assessments, SR increased, and rapid escalation was associated with increases in substance use. SP declined and was unrelated to substance use. Findings support contemporary views of adolescent brain development and suggest that early adolescent substance use is motivated by approach responses to reward, rather than failure to avoid potential aversive consequences.