Neurodevelopmental changes in social reinforcement processing: A functional magnetic resonance imaging study

Soonjo Hwang, Harma Meffert, Michelle R. VanTieghem, Stuart F. White, Stephen Sinclair, Susan Y. Bookheimer, James Blair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Objective: In the current study we investigated neurodevelopmental changes in response to social and non-social reinforcement. Methods: Fifty-three healthy participants including 16 early adolescents (age, 10-15 years), 16 late adolescents (age, 15-18 years), and 21 young adults (age, 21-25 years) completed a social/non-social reward learning task while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. Participants responded to fractal image stimuli and received social or non-social reward/non-rewards according to their accuracy. ANOVAs were conducted on both the blood oxygen level dependent response data and the product of a context-dependent psychophysiological interaction (gPPI) analysis involving ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and bilateral insula cortices as seed regions. Results: Early adolescents showed significantly increased activation in the amygdala and anterior insula cortex in response to non-social monetary rewards relative to both social reward/non-reward and monetary non-rewards compared to late adolescents and young adults. In addition, early adolescents showed significantly more positive connectivity between the vmPFC/bilateral insula cortices seeds and other regions implicated in reinforcement processing (the amygdala, posterior cingulate cortex, insula cortex, and lentiform nucleus) in response to non-reward and especially social non-reward, compared to late adolescents and young adults. Conclusion: It appears that early adolescence may be marked by: (i) a selective increase in responsiveness to non-social, relative to social, rewards; and (ii) enhanced, integrated functioning of reinforcement circuitry for non-reward, and in particular, with respect to posterior cingulate and insula cortices, for social non-reward.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)369-381
Number of pages13
JournalClinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2017


  • Amygdala
  • Anterior insula
  • Context-dependent psychophysiological interaction
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • Social reward
  • Ventro-medial prefrontal cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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