Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
In this fMRI study, we investigated the development between adolescence and adulthood of the neural processing of social emotions. Unlike basic emotions (such as disgust and fear), social emotions (such as guilt and embarrassment) require the representation of another's mental states. Nineteen adolescents (10–18 years) and 10 adults (22–32 years) were scanned while thinking about scenarios featuring either social or basic emotions. In both age groups, the anterior rostral medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) was activated during social versus basic emotion. However, adolescents activated a lateral part of the MPFC for social versus basic emotions, whereas adults did not. Relative to adolescents, adults showed higher activity in the left temporal pole for social versus basic emotions. These results show that, although the MPFC is activated during social emotion in both adults and adolescents, adolescents recruit anterior (MPFC) regions more than do adults, and adults recruit posterior (temporal) regions more than do adolescents.