Salience Network Response to Changes in Emotional Expressions of Others is Heightened During Early Adolescence: Relevance for Social Functioning

Maya L. Rosen, University of Washington
Margaret A. Sheridan, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Kelly A. Sambrook, University of Washington
Meg J. Dennison, University of Washington
Jessica L. Jenness, University of Washington
Mary K. Askren, University of Washington
Andrew N. Meltzoff, University of Washington
Katie A. McLaughlin, University of Washington

Peer reviewed accepted manuscript.


Adolescence is a unique developmental period when the salience of social and emotional information becomes particularly pronounced. Although this increased sensitivity to social and emotional information has frequently been considered with respect to risk behaviors and psychopathology, evidence suggests that increased adolescent sensitivity to social and emotional cues may confer advantages. For example, greater sensitivity to shifts in the emotions of others is likely to promote flexible and adaptive social behavior. In this study, a sample of 54 children and adolescents (age 8–19 years) performed a delayed match-to-sample task for emotional faces while undergoing fMRI scanning. Recruitment of the anterior cingulate and anterior insula when the emotion of the probe face did not match the emotion held in memory followed a quadratic developmental pattern that peaked during early adolescence. These findings indicate meaningful developmental variation in the neural mechanisms underlying sensitivity to changes in the emotional expressions. Across all participants, greater activation of this network for changes in emotional expression was associated with less social anxiety and fewer social problems. These results suggest that the heightened salience of social and emotional information during adolescence may confer important advantages for social behavior, providing sensitivity to others’ emotions that facilitates flexible social responding.