An Event-Related Potential Study of Social Information Processing in Adolescents
Increased social awareness is a hallmark of adolescence. The primary aim of this event-related potential study was to investigate whether adolescents, in comparison to adults, would show relatively enhanced early neural processing of complex pictures containing socially-relevant information. A secondary aim was to investigate whether there are also gender and age differences in the ways adolescents and adults process social and nonsocial information. We recorded EEGs from 12–17 year-olds and 25–37 year-olds (N = 59) while they viewed pleasant pictures from the International Affective Picture System. We found age-related amplitude differences in the N1 and the LPP, and gender-related differences in the N2 region for socially-relevant stimuli. Social pictures (featuring mostly young children and adults) elicited larger N1s than nonsocial stimuli in adolescents, but not adults, whereas larger LPPs to social stimuli were seen in adults, but not adolescents. Furthermore, in general, males (regardless of age) showed larger N2s to nonsocial than to social images, but females did not. Our results imply that compared to adults, adolescents show relatively greater initial orientation toward social than toward nonsocial stimuli.