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The association between delinquent peer affiliation and disruptive behavior interacts with functional brain correlates of reward sensitivity: a biosocial interaction study in adolescent delinquents.

Psychological Medicine 2023 December 5
BACKGROUND: Affiliating with delinquent peers may stimulate the development of antisocial behavior, especially for adolescents who are sensitive to social rewards. The current study examines whether the association between delinquent peer affiliation (DPA) and disruptive behavior interacts with functional brain correlates of reward sensitivity in early onset male adolescents delinquents.

METHODS: Childhood arrestees ( n = 126, mean age = 17.7 [s.d. 1.6]) completed a DPA questionnaire, and participated in an fMRI study in which reward sensitivity was operationalized through responsiveness of the ventral striatum ( VS ), amygdala, and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) during the monetary incentive delay paradigm (reward anticipation and outcome). Symptoms of disruptive behavior disorders (DBD) were assessed through structured psychiatric interviews (Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children) with adolescents.

RESULTS: DPA had a main effect on DBD symptoms. Adolescents with high VS reward responses showed a stronger significant positive association between DPA and DBD symptoms compared to low VS responders. No evidence for an interaction effect was found for the amygdala and mPFC. Post-hoc analyses revealed the positive association between DPA and DBD was only present in males, with a diminishing effect as age increased.

CONCLUSIONS: We found evidence for a biosocial interaction between DPA and reward sensitivity of the VS in relation to DBD symptom severity. This study provides the first evidence of an interaction effect between a brain mechanism and an environmental factor in relation to DBD symptoms, implying that susceptibility to influences of delinquent peers may intertwine with individual biological differences.

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