Abnormal Affective Decision Making Revealed in Adolescent Binge Drinkers Using a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study

Document Type



Community and Global Health (CGU)

Publication Date



Health Psychology | Mental and Social Health | Psychology | Substance Abuse and Addiction


The goal of this study was to investigate the neural correlates of affective decision making, as measured by the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT), which are associated with adolescent binge drinking. Fourteen adolescent binge drinkers (16–18 years of age) and 14 age-matched adolescents who had never consumed alcohol—never drinkers—were recruited from local high schools in Chengdu, China. Questionnaires were used to assess academic performance, drinking experience, and urgency. Brain regions activated by the IGT performance were identified with functional magnetic resonance imaging. Results showed that, compared to never drinkers, binge drinkers performed worse on the IGT and showed higher activity in the subcomponents of the decision-making neural circuitry implicated in the execution of emotional and incentive-related behaviors, namely, the left amygdala and insula bilaterally. Moreover, measures of the severity of drinking problems in real life, as well as high urgency scores, were associated with increased activity within the insula, combined with decreased activity within the orbitofrontal cortex. These results suggest that hyperreactivity of a neural system implicated in the execution of emotional and incentive-related behaviors can be associated with socially undesirable behaviors, such as binge drinking, among adolescents. These findings have social implications because they potentially reveal underlying neural mechanisms for making poor decisions, which may increase an individual’s risk and vulnerability for alcoholism.

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© 2012 American Psychological Assocation