Children of Bipolar Parents Have Increased Novelty-Seeking and Impulsivity Interview with:
Manpreet K. Singh, MD MS
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang Faculty Scholar in Pediatric Translational Medicine
Stanford University School of Medicine

Medical Research: What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Singh: Our research team used a monetary incentive delay paradigm to measure fronto-limbic activity and connectivity associated with anticipation and receipt of reward and loss in healthy offspring of parents with bipolar I disorder. We found that compared to youth offspring without any family history of psychopathology, high-risk offspring had aberrant prefrontal and cingulate activations and connectivity during reward processing. Further, greater striatal, amygdalar, and insula activations while anticipating and receiving rewards and losses were associated with greater novelty-seeking and impulsivity traits in high-risk youth.

Medical Research: Were any of the findings unexpected?

Dr. Singh: We were surprised that MRI was sensitive to detect group differences in brain activation and connectivity in youth that were behaviorally indistinguishable. We did find correlations within our high risk group for activations in regions in the brain critical for reward and emotional function and traits associated with reward function including novelty-seeking and impulsivity. With larger sample sizes, we may be able to link brain function to more subtle behaviors and tendencies that may help clinicians better assess which youth are at high risk for developing bipolar disorder.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Singh: Neuroimaging of the brain’s reward centers may shed light into the underlying causes of bipolar disorder even before the onset of symptoms. This may lead to the development of more targeted interventions.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Singh: Longitudinal follow up of youth with a family history of bipolar disorder is needed to determine whether the findings we report that precede symptoms indeed predict the development of bipolar disorder in the future.


Singh MK, Kelley RG, Howe ME, Reiss AL, Gotlib IH, Chang KD. Reward Processing in Healthy Offspring of Parents With Bipolar Disorder. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online August 20, 2014. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.1031.