Social cognitive development during
1Behavioural & Brain Sciences, Institute of Child Health, University College London, 30 Guilford Street, London WC1N 1EH and 2Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, 17 Queen Square, London WC1N 3AR, UK
Social relationships are particularly important during adolescence.In recent years, histological and MRI studies have shown thatthe brain is subject to considerable structural developmentduring adolescence. Brain regions that are implicated in socialcognition, including parts of prefrontal, parietal and superiortemporal cortex, undergo the most pronounced and prolonged change.However, the development of social cognition during adolescenceand its neural underpinnings remains poorly understood. Here,we begin by outlining how the brain changes between childhoodand adulthood. We then describe findings that have emerged frombehavioural and neuroimaging studies of the recognition of facialexpression during adolescence. Finally, we present new datathat demonstrate development of emotional perspective takingduring adolescence. In this study, 112 participants, aged 8–36years, performed a computerised task that involved taking anemotional perspective either from the participant's own pointof view or from that of another person. The results showed thataverage difference in reaction time (RT) to answer questionsin the first person perspective (1PP) and third person perspective(3PP) significantly decreased with age. The RT difference ofadults tended to cluster close to the zero line (3PP = 1PP),while a greater proportion of pre-adolescents had higher differencevalues in both the positive (3PP > 1PP) and negative direction(1PP > 3PP) of the scale. The data suggest that the efficiency,and possibly strategy, of perspective taking develop in parallelwith brain maturation and psychosocial development during adolescence.