Wired for Connection: Neural Signatures of Socio-emotional Skill Development

Brindley, Samantha, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Morris, James, AS-Psychology (PSYC), University of Virginia

This dissertation investigates how functional brain organization changes across development to support the refinement of socio-emotional skills that enable humans to form and maintain fulfilling social relationships. The first study demonstrates that individual differences in functional connectivity strength during a social attention task are related to varying levels of social interaction and communication skill in adulthood. The second study establishes that differential maturation of functional connectivity between regions of the prefrontal cortex is associated with socio-emotional skill development during childhood. The third study explores the environmental factors that impact brain development and provides evidence that normative range variability in parenting influences whole-brain functional network segregation in adolescence. All three studies employ a similar framework to detect robust associations between individual differences in brain function and complex behaviors. This methodological approach, which includes the use of naturalistic fMRI stimuli, the examination of coordinated activity between regions distributed across the entire brain, and the identification of distinct latent domains of behavior, has potential applications within the broader field of cognitive neuroscience. Together, this collection of studies improves our understanding of the neural correlates of socio-emotional skill development, a process that is critical to social integration, mental and physical health outcomes, and well-being throughout the lifespan.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
fMRI, functional connectivity, individual differences, socio-emotional development
Issued Date: