Developmental Changes in the Structure of the Social Brain in Late Childhood and Adolescence

Mills, Kathryn L. and Lalonde, François and Clasen, Liv S. and Giedd, Jay N. and Blakemore, Sarah-Jayne


Social cognition provides humans with the necessary skills to understand and interact with one another. One aspect of social cognition, mentalizing, is associated with a network of brain regions often referred to as the ’social brain.’ These consist of medial prefrontal cortex [medial Brodmann Area 10 (mBA10)], temporoparietal junction (TPJ), posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) and anterior temporal cortex (ATC). How these specific regions develop structurally across late childhood and adolescence is not well established. This study examined the structural developmental trajectories of social brain regions in the longest ongoing longitudinal neuroimaging study of human brain maturation. Structural trajectories of grey matter volume, cortical thickness and surface area were analyzed using surface-based cortical reconstruction software and mixed modeling in a longitudinal sample of 288 participants (ages 7-30 years, 857 total scans). Grey matter volume and cortical thickness in mBA10, TPJ and pSTS decreased from childhood into the early twenties. The ATC increased in grey matter volume until adolescence and in cortical thickness until early adulthood. Surface area for each region followed a cubic trajectory, peaking in early or pre-adolescence before decreasing into the early twenties. These results are discussed in the context of developmental changes in social cognition across adolescence.

Cite this paper:

  title = {Developmental {Changes} in the {Structure} of the {Social} {Brain} in {Late} {Childhood} and {Adolescence}},
  volume = {9},
  issn = {1749-5016},
  doi = {10.1093/scan/nss113},
  language = {en},
  number = {1},
  journal = {Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience},
  author = {Mills, Kathryn L. and Lalonde, François and Clasen, Liv S. and Giedd, Jay N. and Blakemore, Sarah-Jayne},
  month = jan,
  year = {2014},
  pages = {123--131}