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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

October 2017, Vol. 29, No. 10, Pages 1739-1754
(doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_01153)
Social and Nonsocial Relational Reasoning in Adolescence and Adulthood
Article PDF (1.42 MB)

Reasoning during social interactions requires the individual manipulation of mental representations of one's own traits and those of other people as well as their joint consideration (relational integration). Research using nonsocial paradigms has linked relational integration to activity in the rostrolateral PFC. Here, we investigated whether social reasoning is supported by the same general system or whether it additionally relies on regions of the social brain network, such as the medial PFC. We further assessed the development of social reasoning. In the social task, participants evaluated themselves or a friend, or compared themselves with their friend, on a series of traits. In the nonsocial task, participants evaluated their hometown or another town or compared the two. In a behavioral study involving 325 participants (11–39 years old), we found that integrating relations, compared with performing single relational judgments, improves during adolescence, both for social and nonsocial information. Thirty-nine female participants (10–31 years old) took part in a neuroimaging study using a similar task. Activation of the relational integration network, including the rostrolateral PFC, was observed in the comparison condition of both the social and nonsocial tasks, whereas the medial PFC showed greater activation when participants processed social as opposed to nonsocial information across conditions. Developmentally, the right anterior insula showed greater activity in adolescents compared with adults during the comparison of nonsocial versus social information. This study shows parallel recruitment of the social brain and the relational reasoning network during the relational integration of social information in adolescence and adulthood.