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Prefrontal Cortical Response to Negative Social Words Links Social Risk to Depressive Symptoms in Adolescence


Research suggests that altered emotion processing may be one important pathway linking social risk factors and depressive symptoms. We examined the extent to which neural response to negatively valenced social information might help to account for the relationship between social risk and depressive symptoms in youth. Forty-nine youth were scanned while identifying the emotional valence of words that connoted social status. They also completed questionnaires assessing self-reported social risk factors and depressive symptoms. Mediation analysis revealed that reduced dorsolateral prefrontal cortex activity in response to negative social status words explained the positive association between social risk and depressive symptoms. These findings suggest that social risk factors present during adolescence may contribute to depressive symptoms by influencing the neural substrates of emotion processing.

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