Conflicts of interest statement: No conflicts declared.
Annual Research Review
Annual Research Review: Towards a developmental neuroscience of atypical social cognition
Version of Record online: 28 NOV 2013
© 2013 The Authors. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry © 2013 Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health.
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Special Issue: Annual Research Review: Developmental models of mental health and disorder - moving beyond ‘Towards’
Volume 55, Issue 6, pages 553–577, June 2014
How to Cite
Happé, F. and Frith, U. (2014), Annual Research Review: Towards a developmental neuroscience of atypical social cognition. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 55: 553–577. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12162
- Issue online: 19 MAY 2014
- Version of Record online: 28 NOV 2013
- Manuscript Accepted: 10 SEP 2013
- MRC. Grant Number: G0500870
- Anglo-American Charity and Bailey Thomas Charitable Fund
- Social cognition;
- autism spectrum disorders;
- theory of mind;
- brain development
As a starting point for our review we use a developmental timeline, starting from birth and divided into major developmental epochs defined by key milestones of social cognition in typical development. For each epoch, we highlight those developmental disorders that diverge from the normal developmental pattern, what is known about these key milestones in the major disorders affecting social cognition, and any available research on the neural basis of these differences. We relate behavioural observations to four major networks of the social brain, that is, Amygdala, Mentalizing, Emotion and Mirror networks. We focus on those developmental disorders that are characterized primarily by social atypicality, such as autism spectrum disorder, social anxiety and a variety of genetically defined syndromes. The processes and aspects of social cognition we highlight are sketched in a putative network diagram, and include: agent identification, emotion processing and empathy, mental state attribution, self-processing and social hierarchy mapping involving social ‘policing’ and in-group/out-group categorization. Developmental disorders reveal some dissociable deficits in different components of this map of social cognition. This broad review across disorders, ages and aspects of social cognition leads us to some key questions: How can we best distinguish primary from secondary social disorders? Is social cognition especially vulnerable to developmental disorder, or surprisingly robust? Are cascading notions of social development, in which early functions are essential stepping stones or building bricks for later abilities, necessarily correct?