Middle childhood marks an important phase for developing and maintaining social relations. At the same time, this phase is marked by a gap in our knowledge of the genetic and environmental influences on brain responses to social feedback and their relation to behavioral aggression. In a large developmental twin sample (509 7- to 9-year-olds), the heritability and neural underpinnings of behavioral aggression following social evaluation were investigated, using the Social Network Aggression Task (SNAT). Participants viewed pictures of peers that gave positive, neutral, or negative feedback to the participant's profile. Next, participants could blast a loud noise toward the peer as an index of aggression. Genetic modeling revealed that aggression following negative feedback was influenced by both genetics and environmental (shared as well as unique environment). On a neural level (n = 385), the anterior insula and anterior cingulate cortex gyrus (ACCg) responded to both positive and negative feedback, suggesting they signal for social salience cues. The medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) were specifically activated during negative feedback, whereas positive feedback resulted in increased activation in caudate, supplementary motor cortex (SMA), and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). Decreased SMA and DLPFC activation during negative feedback was associated with more aggressive behavior after negative feedback. Moreover, genetic modeling showed that 13%–14% of the variance in dorsolateral PFC activity was explained by genetics. Our results suggest that the processing of social feedback is partly explained by genetic factors, whereas shared environmental influences play a role in behavioral aggression following feedback.
- behavioral genetics
- dorsolateral prefrontal cortex
- peer feedback
- twin study