Sex differences in risk-based decision-making in adolescents with conduct disorder

Justina Sidlauskaite, Karen Gonzalez-Madruga, Areti Smaragdi, Roberta Riccelli, Ignazio Puzzo, Molly Batchelor, Harriet Cornwell, Luke Clark, Edmund J.S. Sonuga-Barke, Graeme Fairchild

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Altered decision-making processes and excessive risk-seeking behaviours are key features of conduct disorder (CD). Previous studies have provided compelling evidence of abnormally increased preference for risky options, higher sensitivity to rewards, as well as blunted responsiveness to aversive outcomes in adolescents with CD. However, most studies published to date have focused on males only, thus it is not known whether females with CD show similar alterations in decision-making. The current study investigated potential sex differences in decision-making and risk-seeking behaviours in adolescents with CD. Forty-nine adolescents with CD (23 females) and 51 control subjects (27 females), aged 11-18 years, performed a computerised task assessing decision-making under risk - the Risky Choice Task. Participants made a series of decisions between two gamble options that varied in terms of their expected values and probability of gains and losses. This enabled the participants' risk preferences to be determined. Taking the sample as a whole, adolescents with CD exhibited increased risk-seeking behaviours compared to healthy controls. However, we found a trend towards a sex-by-group interaction, suggesting that these effects may vary by sex. Follow-up analyses showed that males with CD made significantly more risky choices than their typically-developing counterparts, while females with CD did not differ from typically-developing females in their risk-seeking behaviours. Our results provide preliminary evidence that sex may moderate the relationship between CD and alterations in risk attitudes and reward processing, indicating that there may be sex differences in the developmental pathways and neuropsychological deficits that lead to CD.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1133-1142
JournalEuropean Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number9
Early online date7 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018


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