Social cognition is the collection of cognitive processes required to understand and interact with others. The term 'social brain' refers to the network of brain regions that underlies these processes. Recent evidence suggests that a number of social cognitive functions continue to develop during adolescence, resulting in age differences in tasks that assess cognitive domains including face processing, mental state inference and responding to peer influence and social evaluation. Concurrently, functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies show differences between adolescent and adult groups within parts of the social brain. Understanding the relationship between these neural and behavioural observations is a challenge. This review discusses current research findings on adolescent social cognitive development and its functional MRI correlates, then integrates and interprets these findings in the context of hypothesised developmental neurocognitive and neurophysiological mechanisms.
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