Rewards reliably elicit ventral striatum activity. More recently studies have shown that vicarious rewards elicit similar activation. Ventral striatum responses to rewards for self peak during adolescence. However, it is currently not well understood how ventral striatum responses to vicarious rewards develop. In this study, we test this question using behavioral and fMRI data. A total of 233 participants aged 9-26 years old played a gambling game in the scanner in which they could win or lose money for themselves, their best friend and mother. Participants rated how close they felt to their friend and mother and how much they liked winning for them. These ratings were positively correlated. On the neural level males showed higher responses to winning for a friend, but there were no age differences. In contrast, there was a quadratic effect of age when winning for mother, showing heightened ventral striatum activity in mid-adolescence. Furthermore, there was an interaction between age and sex; for females responses to winning for friends become stronger with age relative to winning for mothers. In conclusion, this study provided evidence for elevated ventral striatumresponses for mothers in mid-adolescence, and a shift in ventral striatum responses towards peers in girls.
- Vicarious reward