We examined the maturation of decision-making from early adolescence to mid-adulthood using fMRI of a variant of the Iowa gambling task. We have previously shown that performance in this task relies on sensitivity to accumulating negative outcomes in ventromedial PFC and dorsolateral PFC. Here, we further formalize outcome evaluation (as driven by prediction errors [PE], using a reinforcement learning model) and examine its development. Task performance improved significantly during adolescence, stabilizing in adulthood. Performance relied on greater impact of negative compared with positive PEs, the relative impact of which matured from adolescence into adulthood. Adolescents also showed increased exploratory behavior, expressed as a propensity to shift responding between options independently of outcome quality, whereas adults showed no systematic shifting patterns. The correlation between PE representation and improved performance strengthened with age for activation in ventral and dorsal PFC, ventral striatum, and temporal and parietal cortices. There was a medial-lateral distinction in the prefrontal substrates of effective PE utilization between adults and adolescents: Increased utilization of negative PEs, a hallmark of successful performance in the task, was associated with increased activation in ventromedial PFC in adults, but decreased activation in ventrolateral PFC and striatum in adolescents. These results suggest that adults and adolescents engage qualitatively distinct neural and psychological processes during decision-making, the development of which is not exclusively dependent on reward-processing maturation.

You do not currently have access to this content.