Role of contingency in striatal response to incentive in adolescents with anxiety

Brenda E. Benson, Amanda E. Guyer, Eric E. Nelson, Daniel S. Pine, Monique Ernst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


This study examines the effect of contingency on reward function in anxiety. We define contingency as the aspect of a situation in which the outcome is determined by one’s action—that is, when there is a direct link between one’s action and the outcome of the action. Past findings in adolescents with anxiety or at risk for anxiety have revealed hypersensitive behavioral and neural responses to higher value rewards with correct performance. This hypersensitivity to highly valued (salient) actions suggests that the value of actions is determined not only by outcome magnitude, but also by the degree to which the outcome is contingent on correct performance. Thus, contingency and incentive value might each modulate reward responses in unique ways in anxiety. Using fMRI with a monetary reward task, striatal response to cue anticipation is compared in 18 clinically anxious and 20 healthy adolescents. This task manipulates orthogonally reward contingency and incentive value. Findings suggest that contingency modulates the neural response to incentive magnitude differently in the two groups. Specifically, during the contingent condition, right-striatal response tracks incentive value in anxious, but not healthy, adolescents. During the noncontingent condition, striatal response is bilaterally stronger to low than to high incentive in anxious adolescents, while healthy adolescents exhibit the expected opposite pattern. Both contingency and reward magnitude differentiate striatal activation in anxious versus healthy adolescents. These findings may reflect exaggerated concern about performance and/or alterations of striatal coding of reward value in anxious adolescents. Abnormalities in reward function in anxiety may have treatment implications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-168
Number of pages14
JournalCognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Agency
  • Anxiety
  • Caudate
  • Reward
  • Self-control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Medicine(all)


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