Social anxiety and age are associated with neural response to social evaluation during adolescence

Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2020 Apr;42:100768. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2020.100768. Epub 2020 Feb 10.


Adolescence is a sensitive period for the development of adaptive social behaviors and social anxiety, possibly due to aspects of brain development. However, research is needed to examine interactions among age, social anxiety, and social dynamics previously shown to influence neural responding. The current functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study examines brain function in 8-18 year-olds with varying levels of social anxiety. Interactions are examined among age, social anxiety, and two key task factors: valence and predictability of social interactions. Results demonstrate age, social anxiety severity, and each of the two key task-based factors interact to predict neural response in the caudate, middle and superior temporal gyri. In particular, among adolescents less-than 13 years of age, higher social anxiety predicted greater responding to unpredictable negative evaluations. However, in this same age group, the opposite pattern emerged during receipt of unpredictable positive evaluations, with less neural response in more anxious youth. Adolescents aged 13 and older overall showed less robust effects. We discuss these findings in terms of age- and anxiety-related differences in socioemotional processing.

Trial registration: NCT00018057.

Keywords: Adolescence; Neuroimaging; Social anxiety; Social evaluation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Social Behavior*

Associated data