Developmental trajectories of social cognition from preschool to adolescence

Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2022 May;31(5):819-828. doi: 10.1007/s00787-021-01719-4. Epub 2021 Jan 25.


This longitudinal study aims to define the developmental trajectories of social cognition (SC) in a community sample (N = 378) assessed from preschool (3 years old) to preadolescence (12 years old). Parents and teachers reported on a SC measure at ages 5, 10, and 12. We tested the existence of different trajectories and whether they discriminated outcomes in early adolescence. The data were collected from different sources, the children, the parents, and teachers, by means of different methods. Using Growth Mixture Modeling (GMM), we identified three distinct social cognition trajectories: persistently mild difficulties reported by parents and teachers (7.9% of the children), stable low problems reported by parents and increased difficulties reported by teachers (10.5% of the sample), and stable low problems reported by both informants for most of the participants (81.5%). Comparison of the psychological outcomes between classes using regression models showed that the two trajectories including children with any level of problems differ from the normative one as regards their association with psychological problems, daily functioning, and variables, such as aggressive behavior and callousness. The two non-normative trajectories also differ from each other in terms of the personal characteristics of the adolescents included in them. Adolescents in the increasing problematic class in the school have a tougher and more problematic style of social relating, while children with persistent and non-context-dependent difficulties are more anxious. These results might help to better detect and design specific interventions for children with deficits in SC that might respond to different personal characteristics leading to different outcomes.

Keywords: Growth mixture modeling; Multi-informant; SCDC; Social cognition; Trajectories.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anxiety
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Parents* / psychology
  • Schools
  • Social Cognition*