Social cognitive development during adolescence

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2006 Dec;1(3):165-74. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsl024.


Social relationships are particularly important during adolescence. In recent years, histological and MRI studies have shown that the brain is subject to considerable structural development during adolescence. Brain regions that are implicated in social cognition, including parts of prefrontal, parietal and superior temporal cortex, undergo the most pronounced and prolonged change. However, the development of social cognition during adolescence and its neural underpinnings remains poorly understood. Here, we begin by outlining how the brain changes between childhood and adulthood. We then describe findings that have emerged from behavioural and neuroimaging studies of the recognition of facial expression during adolescence. Finally, we present new data that demonstrate development of emotional perspective taking during adolescence. In this study, 112 participants, aged 8-36 years, performed a computerised task that involved taking an emotional perspective either from the participant's own point of view or from that of another person. The results showed that average difference in reaction time (RT) to answer questions in the first person perspective (1PP) and third person perspective (3PP) significantly decreased with age. The RT difference of adults tended to cluster close to the zero line (3PP = 1PP), while a greater proportion of pre-adolescents had higher difference values in both the positive (3PP > 1PP) and negative direction (1PP > 3PP) of the scale. The data suggest that the efficiency, and possibly strategy, of perspective taking develop in parallel with brain maturation and psychosocial development during adolescence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology
  • Child
  • Cognition*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence
  • Male
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Personality Development*
  • Reaction Time
  • Social Perception*
  • Young Adult