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Choice Impulsivity in Adolescents



Many adolescents engage in variety of potentially dangerous risk-taking behaviors, such as substance abuse and unsafe sex. In order to develop effective prevention strategies, it is crucial to understand psychological and neurobiological processes underlying the development and maintenance of these risk behaviors. Choice impulsivity (CI), a diminished ability to tolerate a delay, is a major contributor to substance abuse and risky sexual behaviors and is elevated in adolescents compared with adults. CI is associated with elevated neural activation in reward regions and diminished activation in prefrontal control regions. This pattern of activation also characterizes adolescent neurodevelopment and contributes to elevated levels of CI in adolescents compared with adults.

This research utilizes a prospective design to provide insight into how CI changes through adolescence, and how it relates to increases in youth risk-taking, from behavioral and neurobiological perspectives.  Adolescents’ choice impulsivity will be measured on a behavioral task while in the fMRI scanner, and the participants also will provide information about their real-life risk behaviors.  Participants will be assessed three times over the course of the five-year study, beginning at 14 years old. Prospective assessment will provide the opportunity to examine changes in CI and its underlying patterns of neural activation throughout development as they relate to risky behaviors.  

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