Neural responses to social and monetary reward in early adolescence and emerging adulthood
Reward processing is often considered to be a monolithic construct, with different incentive types eliciting equivalent neural and behavioral responses. The majority of the literature on reward processing has used monetary incentives to elicit reward-related activity, yet social incentives may be particularly important due to their powerful ability to shape behavior. Findings from studies comparing social and monetary rewards have identified both overlapping and distinct responses. In order to explore whether reward processing is domain general or category specific (i.e., the same or different across reward types), the present study recorded ERPs from early adolescents (ages 12–13) and emerging adults (ages 18–25) while they completed social and monetary reward tasks. Temporospatial principal components analysis revealed morphologically similar reward positivities (RewPs) in the social and monetary reward tasks in each age group. In early adolescents, no significant difference was found between the magnitude of the RewP to social and monetary rewards. In emerging adults, however, the RewP to monetary rewards was significantly larger than the RewP to social rewards. Additionally, responses to feedback between the two tasks were not significantly correlated in either age group. These results suggest that both domain-general and category-specific processes underlie neural responses to rewards and that the relative incentive value of different types of rewards may change across development. Findings from this study have important implications for understanding the role that neural response to rewards plays in the development of psychopathology during adolescence.