Adolescent Thoughts and Feelings Project (ATFP)

  • Research Project Team

    • R.M. Pasco Fearon,
    • Peter Fonagy,
    • Tarek Bel-Bahar,
    • Tobias Nolte,
    • Alex Desatnik,
    • James G. Sheffield


    Michael J. Crowley (Yale Child Study Center)


    James G. Sheffield (

  • Background

    Adolescence is associated with marked changes in social behaviour, emotion regulation, and inhibition. Perhaps more concerning, we also see increases in antisocial and risk-taking behaviour amongst adolescents. Past work has linked altered motivational systems to both antisocial behaviour and risk taking behaviour. These changes in motivational systems can express themselves as changes in reward processing – those high in antisocial behaviour are more sensitive to reward than punishment.

    However, previous research with adolescents investigating the relationship between antisocial behaviour and reward-related neural processes has been largely inconsistent, which may be related to the techniques used. Electroencephalogram (EEG) offers an attractive methodology for investigating the rapid neural mechanisms evoked by feedback stimuli. Two EEG markers have been associated with feedback processing: the Feedback Related Negativity (FRN) thought to reflect outcome monitoring; and the P3b, which reflects the encoding of the motivational salience of a reward cue.

  • Aims

    • To investigate how EEG markers of reward and punishment processing are related to antisocial behaviour in adolescents.
    • To investigate how this relationship is further influenced by participant age and gender.
  • Methodology

    • Adolescents between the ages of 11 and 18 years were invited to take part in the project took part in a 3 hour testing session.
    • They were asked to complete computer tasks related to feedback processing, inhibition and emotion regulation.
    • During these tasks, participant’s neural response was measured using high-density electroencephalogram (EEG).
    • Participants were also asked to report on several personality and behavioural indices, including antisocial behaviour, depression, and anxiety measures.
  • Results

    Adolescents who reported higher levels of antisocial behaviour demonstrated significant differences in their neural response when presented with reward and punishment feedback compared to adolescents who reported lower levels of antisocial behaviour.

    1. Those with higher antisocial behaviour scores demonstrated larger P3b to reward compared to punishment, an effect not seen in their less antisocial counterparts, suggestive of a higher motivational significance of reward compared to punishment in those more prone to antisocial behaviour.
    2. Higher antisocial behaviour scores were associated with smaller differences between FRN response evoked by reward and punishment stimuli. As the FRN is indicative of outcome processing, this suggests that those more prone to antisocial behaviour produce less reliable error signals differentiating punishment and reward.
    3. Older participants demonstrated greater differences in FRN response evoked by reward and punishment stimuli which may reflect the maturation of brain circuits responsible to outcome monitoring over adolescence.

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