BackgroundMaladaptive social information processing, such as hostile attributional bias and aggressive response generation, is associated with childhood maladjustment. Although social information processing problems are correlated with heightened physiological responses to social threat, few studies have examined their associations with neural threat circuitry, specifically amygdala activation to social threat.
MethodsA cohort of 310 boys participated in an ongoing longitudinal study and completed questionnaires and laboratory tasks assessing their social and cognitive characteristics the boys were between 10 and 12 years of age. At age 20, 178 of these young men underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging and a social threat task. At age 22, adult criminal arrest records and self-reports of impulsiveness were obtained.
ResultsPath models indicated that maladaptive social information-processing at ages 10 and 11 predicted increased left amygdala reactivity to fear faces, an ambiguous threat, at age 20 while accounting for childhood antisocial behavior, empathy, IQ, and socioeconomic status. Exploratory analyses indicated that aggressive response generation - the tendency to respond to threat with reactive aggression - predicted left amygdala reactivity to fear faces and was concurrently associated with empathy, antisocial behavior, and hostile attributional bias, whereas hostile attributional bias correlated with IQ. Although unrelated to social information-processing problems, bilateral amygdala reactivity to anger faces at age 20 was unexpectedly predicted by low IQ at age 11. Amygdala activation did not mediate associations between social information processing and number of criminal arrests, but both impulsiveness at age 22 and arrests were correlated with right amygdala reactivity to anger facial expressions at age 20.
ConclusionsChildhood social information processing and IQ predicted young men's amygdala response to threat a decade later, which suggests that childhood social-cognitive characteristics are associated with the development of neural threat processing and adult adjustment.