Active Adolescent Behavior Research
While adolescent behavior provides some clues about motivation for early drug use/ sexual behavior, improved understanding of adolescent brain mechanisms underlying this behavior may shed additional light. One process thought to lead to early and problematic drug use/ sexual behavior is impairment in risky decision-making. The Hulvershorn lab has discovered ventromedial prefrontal activation abnormalities in high-risk youth during risky-decision making, prior to drug experimentation. Specifically, these abnormalities are present when high-risk 10 to 14-year-olds learn about the negative outcomes of their risky decisions. The lab speculates that failure of the brain to effectively process, and therefore learn from, a negative outcome may lead adolescents to continue to take drug/ sexual behavior risks.
Existing imaging-risk studies have defined risk according to a family history of substance use disorders, early substance use, the presence of impulsive/ risky behaviors and a combination of these models.
To address the need for risky decision-making research, the Hulvershorn lab is studying two high-risk groups of non-drug using 11 and 12-year-olds (those with behavioral risk factors or without a family history of substance use disorders) and healthy comparison participants. Brain function of these groups are being assessed cross-sectionally using experimental decision-making tasks along with behavioral assessments of impulse control. The participants will then be invited back for interviews about their drug, alcohol and sexual behavior practices over several years. Outcomes of the project will allow IU School of Medicine experts to better understand the brain mechanisms that underlie risky-decision making in youth at high-risk for substance use disorders, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and the capacity for brain function to predict later drug and high-risk sexual behaviors. Ultimately, this research can be translated to novel interventions targeting high-risk youth.