Parts of brain involved in social cognition may be in place by age 6

Jul 15, 2009

the ability to think about the minds and mental states of others—is essential for human beings. In the last decade, a group of regions has been discovered in the human brain that are specifically used for social cognition. A new study in the July/August 2009 issue of the journal Child Development investigates these brain regions for the first time in human children. The study has implications for children with autism.

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Yale University scanned the brains of 13 children ages 6 to 11 as they listened to children's stories. At the moment the plot of the stories revealed what a character wanted, believed, or knew, or presented the mental state of the character, the researchers observed increased activity in these specific . When the story turned to other topics—such as the physical world or the visual appearance of the characters—activity in these brain regions went back down.

On the whole, activity in the "social brain" of the children—the parts of their brains that are used for social cognition—looked very similar to the patterns previously observed in adults. But there was one intriguing difference: One of the brain regions, the right tempero-parietal junction, appeared to change its function between the ages of 6 and 11. At age 6, the brain region played a general role in thinking about people, but by age 11, this same brain region appeared to take on a more specialized role in thinking just about others' thoughts.

"What we found—a pattern of typical development—may offer clues as we study atypical social development, as happens in autism," according to Rebecca Saxe, the Fred and Carole Middleton Career Development Professor of at MIT, who led the study.

"Children with autism appear to have specific difficulties thinking about other people's thoughts. Understanding how typically learn to think about thoughts may let us detect what is going wrong in an autistic brain, and maybe even target interventions toward those neural systems, to improve chances for recovery."

More information: Child Development, Vol. 80, Issue 4, Brain Regions for Perceiving and Reasoning About Other People in School-Aged Children by Saxe, R, Whitfield-Gabrieli, S, and Scholz, J (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), and Pelphrey, KA (Yale University).

Source: Society for Research in (news : web)

Explore further: Brain's dynamic duel underlies win-win choices

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Looking through the broken mirror

Oct 14, 2008

Researchers at The University of Nottingham are hoping to learn more about the causes of autism and Asperger's Syndrome, by putting a controversial theory to the test.

Recommended for you

Neymar's brain on auto-pilot - Japan neurologists

1 hour ago

Brazilian superstar Neymar's brain activity while dancing past opponents is less than 10 percent the level of amateur players, suggesting he plays as if on auto-pilot, according to Japanese neurologists.

Brain's dynamic duel underlies win-win choices

13 hours ago

People choosing between two or more equally positive outcomes experience paradoxical feelings of pleasure and anxiety, feelings associated with activity in different regions of the brain, according to research ...

ALS disease is rare, 1st US count finds

13 hours ago

(AP)—The U.S. government has issued its first national estimate for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, confirming the devastating disease is rare.

User comments : 0