Birth order and prosociality in the early adolescent brain

Sci Rep. 2021 Nov 8;11(1):21806. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-01146-0.


Birth order is a crucial environmental factor for child development. For example, later-born children are relatively unlikely to feel secure due to sibling competition or diluted parental resources. The positive effect of being earlier-born on cognitive intelligence is well-established. However, whether birth order is linked to social behavior remains controversial, and the neural correlates of birth order effects in adolescence when social cognition develops remain unknown. Here, we explored the birth order effect on prosociality using a large-scale population-based adolescent cohort. Next, since the amygdala is a key region for sociality and environmental stress, we examined amygdala substrates of the association between birth order and prosociality using a subset neuroimaging cohort. We found enhanced prosociality in later-born adolescents (N = 3160), and observed the mediating role of larger amygdala volume (N = 208) and amygdala-prefrontal functional connectivity with sex-selective effects (N = 183). We found that birth order, a non-genetic environmental factor, affects adolescent social development via different neural substrates. Our findings may indicate the later-born people's adaptive survival strategy in stressful environments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Altruism*
  • Amygdala / diagnostic imaging
  • Amygdala / growth & development
  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Birth Order* / psychology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Child
  • Emotional Intelligence / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neuroimaging