Incentive-related modulation of cognitive control in healthy, anxious, and depressed adolescents: Development and psychopathology related differences

Michael G. Hardin, Elizabeth Schroth, Daniel S. Pine, Monique Ernst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


Background: Developmental changes in cognitive and affective processes contribute to adolescent risk-taking behavior, emotional intensification, and psychopathology. The current study examined adolescent development of cognitive control processes and their modulation by incentive, in health and psychopathology. Predictions include 1) better cognitive control in adults than adolescents, and in healthy adolescents than anxious and depressed adolescents, and 2) a stronger influence of incentives in adolescents than adults, and in healthy adolescents than their depressed and anxious counterparts. Methods: Antisaccadic eye movement parameters, which provide a measure of cognitive control, were collected during a reward antisaccade task that included parameterized incentive levels. Participants were 20 healthy adults, 30 healthy adolescents, 16 adolescents with an anxiety disorder, and 11 adolescents with major depression. Performance accuracy and saccade latency were analyzed to test both developmental and psychopathology hypotheses. Results: Development and psychopathology group differences in cognitive control were found. Specifically, adults performed better than healthy adolescents, and healthy adolescents than anxious and depressed adolescents. Incentive improved accuracy for all groups; however, incremental increases were not sufficiently large to further modulate performance. Incentives also affected saccade latencies, pushing healthy adolescent latencies to adult levels, while being less effective in adolescents with depression or anxiety. This latter effect was partially mediated by anxiety symptom severity. Conclusions: Current findings evidence the modulation of cognitive control processes by incentives. While seen in both healthy adults and healthy adolescents, this modulatory effect was stronger in youth. While anxious and depressed adolescents exhibited improved cognitive control under incentives, this effect was smaller than that in healthy adolescents. These findings suggest differential incentive and/or cognitive control processing in anxiety and depression, and across development. Differences could result from disorder specific, or combined developmental and pathological mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)446-454
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescence
  • Anxiety
  • Cognition
  • Depression
  • Development
  • Eye movement
  • Inhibition
  • Motivation
  • Pediatric
  • Saccade
  • Salience
  • Valence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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