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Effect of age on reward sensitivity in a pediatric sample of anxious and healthy participants

Monday, October 24, 2011 — Poster Session I

Noon – 2:00 p.m.

Natcher Conference Center




  • RC Plate
  • JM Bemis
  • T Daniele
  • M Hardin
  • S Helfinstein
  • A Lahat
  • NA Fox
  • DS Pine
  • M Ernst


Behavioral and neural correlates of reward-sensitivity should be examined developmentally. The monetary incentive delay task, a widely used reward paradigm in older subjects, may not be suitable for children due to the task’s abstract content. We developed a child-appropriate piñata paradigm, based on this task. Currently, 24 anxious (8–18 yo; 11.83±2.54) and 14 healthy (8–18 yo; 12.52±2.70) children completed the piñata task. Researchers instructed participants to win stars by “whacking” a computerized piñata. The task included 4 levels of potential rewards. Participants’ performances improved with increased potential rewards. Healthy children demonstrated a negative linear relationship between age and reaction time (RT) across all gain magnitudes (all ps≤.02), whereas anxious children showed a quadratic relationship between age and RT (all ps≤.004), and age and accuracy at each magnitude level of 2, 1, and 0 stars (all ps≤.01). In conclusion, the task is appropriate for youth. Healthy children follow the typical developmental pattern of linear performance improvement with age. In contrast, anxious preteenagers show hyper-reactivity to reward, responding more quickly and accurately than younger and older anxious subjects throughout the task. This differential pattern in healthy and anxious youth suggests an interaction between anxiety and maturation of reward-related processes.

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