Navigating the Social Environment in Adolescence: The Role of Social Brain Development

Biol Psychiatry. 2021 Jan 15;89(2):109-118. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2020.09.012. Epub 2020 Sep 17.


Successful navigation of the social environment is dependent on a number of social cognitive processes, including mentalizing and resistance to peer influence. These processes continue to develop during adolescence, a time of significant social change, and are underpinned by regions of the social brain that continue to mature structurally and functionally into adulthood. In this review, we describe how mentalizing, peer influence, and emotion regulation capacities develop to aid the navigation of the social environment during adolescence. Heightened susceptibility to peer influence and hypersensitivity to social rejection in adolescence increase the likelihood of both risky and prosocial behavior in the presence of peers. Developmental differences in mentalizing and emotion regulation, and the corticosubcortical circuits that underpin these processes, might put adolescents at risk for developing mental health problems. We suggest how interventions aimed at improving prosocial behavior and emotion regulation abilities hold promise in reducing the risk of poor mental health as adolescents navigate the changes in their social environment.

Keywords: Adolescence; Emotion regulation; Mentalizing; Peer influence; Social brain; Social cognition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development
  • Adult
  • Brain
  • Humans
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Change*
  • Social Environment