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J R Soc Med. 2012 Mar;105(3):111-6. doi: 10.1258/jrsm.2011.110221.

Development of the social brain in adolescence.

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Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, 17 Queen Square, London WC1N 3AR, UK.


The brain has evolved to understand and interact with other people. We are increasingly learning more about the neurophysiological basis of social cognition and what is known as the social brain, that is the network of brain regions involved in understanding others. This paper focuses on how the social brain develops during adolescence. Adolescence is a time characterized by change - hormonally, physically, psychologically and socially. Yet until recently this period of life was neglected by cognitive neuroscience. In the past decade, research has shown that the brain develops both structurally and functionally during adolescence. Large-scale structural MRI studies have demonstrated development during adolescence in white matter and grey matter volumes in regions within the social brain. Activity in some of these regions, as measured using fMRI, also shows changes between adolescence and adulthood during social cognition tasks. I will also present evidence that theory of mind usage is still developing late in adolescence. Finally, I will speculate on potential implications of this research for society.

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