Neural cognitive control moderates the association between insular risk processing and risk-taking behaviors via perceived stress in adolescents
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Adolescence is a critical period for the initiation of risk-taking behaviors. We examined the longitudinal interplay between neural correlates of risk processing and cognitive control in predicting risk-taking behaviors via stress. The sample consisted of 167 adolescents (53% males) who were assessed twice (MAgeTime₁=14.13, MAgeTime₂=15.05). Neural risk processing was operationalized as blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) responses in the anterior insula during a lottery choice task and neural cognitive control as BOLD responses during an inhibitory control task. Adolescents reported on perceived stress and risk-taking behaviors. Structural equation modeling analyses indicated that low insular risk processing predicted increases in perceived stress, while perceived stress did not predict changes in insular risk processing across one year. Moreover, significant moderation by neural cognitive control indicated that low insular risk processing predicted increases in risktaking behaviors via increases in perceived stress among adolescents with poor neural cognitive control, but not among adolescents with good neural cognitive control. The results suggest that risk processing in the anterior insular cortex plays an important role in stress experience and risk-taking behaviors particularly for vulnerable adolescents with poor neural cognitive control.