Neural connectivity underlying adolescent social learning in sibling dyads


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Oxford University Press


Social learning theory posits that adolescents learn to adopt social norms by observing the behaviors of others and internalizing the associated outcomes. However, the underlying neural processes by which social learning occurs is less well-understood, despite extensive neurobiological reorganization and a peak in social influence sensitivity during adolescence. Forty-four adolescents (Mage = 12.2 years) completed an fMRI scan while observing their older sibling within four years of age (Mage = 14.3 years) of age complete a risky decision-making task. Group iterative multiple model estimation (GIMME) was used to examine patterns of directional brain region connectivity supporting social learning. We identified group-level neural pathways underlying social observation including the anterior insula to the anterior cingulate cortex and mentalizing regions to social cognition regions. We also found neural states based on adolescent sensitivity to social learning via age, gender, modeling, differentiation, and behavior. Adolescents who were more likely to be influenced elicited neurological up-regulation whereas adolescents who were less likely to be socially influenced elicited neurological down-regulation during risk-taking. These findings highlight patterns of how adolescents process information while a salient influencer takes risks, as well as salient neural pathways that are dependent on similarity factors associated with social learning theory.



Adolescence, fMRI, Risk taking, Siblings, Social learning, Pediatric, Mental health