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Title: The development of social cognitive processes during adolescence
Author: Thompson, Stephanie Sara
ISNI:       0000 0004 2668 4324
Awarding Body: UCL (University College London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2007
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This thesis presents studies investigating three aspects of social cognition: mentalising (the ability to infer the mental states of other people), empathy and emotion processing. First, the development of these social cognitive processes over the course of adolescence was investigated due to post-mortem and structural imaging research showing protracted development of several brain regions associated with social cognition during this time. Second, mentalising and emotion processing were investigated in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a developmental disorder characterised by impaired social cognition. The first set of studies investigated mentalising using a novel computerised task. Adults with ASD showed a significant difference in response time to mentalising compared to non-mentalising scenarios relative to control subjects matched for age and IQ. The same novel mentalising task was administered to typically-developing children, adolescents and adults. While there was evidence of general cognitive development, this was not specific to mentalising. A second mentalising study also found no change in the ability to recognise intention from eye gaze during adolescence. In the fourth study, data from a self-report questionnaire found increased empathy over the course of adolescence. The last set of studies investigated emotion processing. Using animations and facial expression tasks, no change in basic emotion processing during adolescence was found. In contrast, increased 'mixed' (simultaneous) emotion processing for social but not basic emotions during this time was found using a novel self-report questionnaire. Using the same questionnaire, adults with ASD and IQ matched controls showed comparable performance for both basic and social emotion processing. While no change in the ability to mentalise was found during adolescence, the results of the empathy and social emotion studies suggest further social cognitive development occurs in certain domains. These findings are discussed in the context of adolescent brain development and social development during this period of life. In addition, this thesis presents consideration of findings relating the nature of mentalising and emotion processing in ASD.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available