Causal evidence for task-specific involvement of the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex in human social cognition
The ability to perceive social intentions from people's eyes is present from an early age, yet little is known about whether this skill is fully developed in childhood or that subtle changes may still occur across adolescence. This fMRI study investigated the ability to read mental states by using an adapted version of the Reading the Mind in the Eyes task within adolescents (aged 12-19 years) over a 2-year test-retest interval. This longitudinal setup provides the opportunity to study both stability over time as well as age-related changes. The behavioral results showed that participants who performed well in the mental state condition at the first measurement also performed well at the second measurement. fMRI results revealed positive test-retest correlations of neural activity in the right superior temporal sulcus and right inferior frontal gyrus for the contrast mental state > control, suggesting stability within individuals over time. Besides stability of activation, dorsal medial prefrontal cortex showed a dip in mid-adolescence for the mental state > control condition and right inferior frontal gyrus decreased linearly with age for the mental state > control condition. These findings underline changes in the slope of the developmental pattern depending on age, even in the existence of relatively stable activation in the social brain network.