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Front. Behav. Neurosci. | doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2019.00120

Peer victimization and dysfunctional reward processing: ERP and behavioral responses to social and monetary rewards

 Brent I. Rappaport1*,  Laura Hennefield2, Autumn Kujawa3,  Kodi B. Arfer4, Danielle Kelly5,  Emily S. Kappenman6, Joan L. Luby5 and  Deanna M. Barch1, 7
  • 1Psychological & Brain Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis, United States
  • 2Department of Psychiatry, Washington University in St. Louis, United States
  • 3Department of Psychology & Human Development, Vanderbilt University, United States
  • 4Center for HIV Identification, Prevention, and Treatment Services, University of California, Los Angeles, United States
  • 5Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, United States
  • 6Department of Psychology, San Diego State University, United States
  • 7Department of Psychiatry, Department of Radiology, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, United States

Peer victimization (or bullying) is a known risk factor for depression, especially among youth. However, the mechanisms connecting victimization experience to depression symptoms remains unknown. As depression is known to be associated with neural blunting to monetary rewards, aberrant responsiveness to social rewards may be a key deficit connecting socially stressful experiences with later depression. We therefore sought to determine whether adolescents’ experiences with social stress would be related to their current response to social rewards over less socially relevant monetary rewards. Neural responses to monetary and social rewards were measured using event-related potentials (ERPs) to peer acceptance and rejection feedback (Island Getaway task) and to monetary reward and loss feedback (Doors task) in a sample of 56 late adolescents/emerging young adults followed longitudinally since preschool. In the Island Getaway task, participants voted whether to “keep” or “kick out” each co-player, providing an index of prosocial behavior, and then received feedback about how each player voted for the participant. Analyses tested whether early and recent peer victimization were related to response to rewards (peer acceptance or monetary gains), residualized for response to losses (peer rejection or monetary losses) using the reward positivity (RewP) component. Findings indicated that both experiencing greater early and greater recent peer victimization were significantly associated with participants casting fewer votes to keep other adolescents (“Keep” votes) and that greater early peer victimization was associated with reduced neural response to peer acceptance. Early and recent peer victimization were significantly more associated with neural response to social than monetary rewards. Together, these findings suggest that socially injurious experiences such as peer victimization, especially those occurring early in childhood, relate to two distinct but important findings: that early victimization is associated with later reduced response to peer acceptance, and is associated with later tendency to reject peers. Findings also suggest that there is evidence of specificity to reward processing of different types; thus, future research should expand studies of reward processing beyond monetary rewards to account for the possibility that individual differences may be related to other, more relevant, reward types.

Keywords: Peer victimization, Event - Related Potentials (ERP), Reward, Depression, adolescence, monetary reward, social reward

Received: 26 Feb 2019; Accepted: 17 May 2019.

Edited by:

Johanna M. Jarcho, Temple University, United States

Reviewed by:

Sarah Hope Lincoln, Harvard University, United States
Yiping Zhong, Hunan Normal University, China
Jonathan P. Stange, University of Illinois at Chicago, United States  

Copyright: © 2019 Rappaport, Hennefield, Kujawa, Arfer, Kelly, Kappenman, Luby and Barch. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Mr. Brent I. Rappaport, Washington University in St. Louis, Psychological & Brain Sciences, St. Louis, United States,