Development and Psychopathology

Research Article

Reward-related processing in the human brain: Developmental considerations

Dominic S. Fareria1, Laura N. Martina1 and Mauricio R. Delgadoa1 c1

a1 Rutgers University


The pursuit of rewarding experiences motivates everyday human behavior, and can prove beneficial when pleasurable, positive consequences result (e.g., satisfying hunger, earning a paycheck). However, reward seeking may also be maladaptive and lead to risky decisions with potentially negative long-term consequences (e.g., unprotected sex, drug use). Such risky decision making is often observed during adolescence, a time in which important structural and functional refinements occur in the brain's reward circuitry. Although much of the brain develops before adolescence, critical centers for goal-directed behavior, such as frontal corticobasal ganglia networks, continue to mature. These ongoing changes may underlie the increases in risk-taking behavior often observed during adolescence. Further, typical development of these circuits is vital to our ability to make well-informed decisions; atypical development of the human reward circuitry can have severe implications, as is the case in certain clinical and developmental conditions (e.g., attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder). This review focuses on current research probing the neural correlates of reward-related processing across human development supporting the current research hypothesis that immature or atypical corticostriatal circuitry may underlie maladaptive behaviors observed in adolescence.


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Mauricio R. Delgado, Department of Psychology, Smith Hall, Room 340, Rutgers University, 101 Warren Street, Newark, NJ 07102; E-mail:


The authors acknowledge Marek Mandau for assistance with the figures and the support from the National Institute on Drug Abuse Grant DA022998 (to M.R.D.).