Mothers know best: Redirecting adolescent reward sensitivity toward safe behavior during risk taking

Eva H. Telzer*, Nicholas T. Ichien, Yang Qu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


Despite being one of the healthiest developmental periods, morbidity and mortality rates increase dramatically during adolescence, largely due to preventable, risky behaviors. Heightened reward sensitivity, coupled with ineffective cognitive control, has been proposed to underlie adolescents' risk taking. In this study, we test whether reward sensitivity can be redirected to promote safe behavior. Adolescents completed a risk-taking task in the presence of their mother and alone during fMRI. Adolescents demonstrated reduced risk-taking behavior when their mothers were present compared with alone, which was associated with greater recruitment of the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) when making safe decisions, decreased activation in the ventral striatum following risky decisions and greater functional coupling between the ventral striatum and VLPFC when making safe decisions. Importantly, the very same neural circuitry (i.e. ventral striatum) that has been linked to greater risk-taking can also be redirected toward thoughtful, more deliberative and safe decisions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1383-1391
Number of pages9
JournalSocial cognitive and affective neuroscience
Issue number10
StatePublished - Feb 23 2015


  • Adolescence
  • FMRI
  • Family
  • Influence
  • Rewards
  • Risk taking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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