Our relationships with other people are an important part of who we are. This is particularly evident during adolescence, when social relationships become more complex and the social networks expand, and the opinion of others, especially peers, becomes increasingly important. In this social environment the adolescents develop social cognitive functions necessary for successful social interactions, such as trust, empathy, and understanding the perspective of others. The development of these functions is also linked to changes in brain areas; as brain structure and function continue to mature.
The relationship between the social cognitive development, social behavior, and changes in the social network that occur during adolescence are important from a scientific perspective, but also for education. It can give us more insight into how adolescents cope with social emotions, how they interact, and form friendships. The research project 'SO # Connect' (http://www.so-connect.net/) aims to increase understanding of these processes. The research was funded by a Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council.
We use functional brain imaging (fMRI), social cognitive tasks, ecological momentary assessment and social network analysis. This way, we aim to describe and understand social cognitive development within the adolescent’s social context. The research focuses on the first year of secondary school, because adolescents are faced with a new group in which they must find their own place. By repeating the measurements over a period of three years we obtain insight in the interaction between the social-cognitive development and the social world.