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Neuroimaging studies of pediatric social anxiety: paradigms, pitfalls and a new direction for investigating the neural mechanisms

Johanna M Jarcho1*, Ellen Leibenluft2, Olga Lydia Walker3, Nathan A Fox34, Daniel S Pine1 and Eric E Nelson1

Author Affiliations

1 Section on Developmental and Affective Neuroscience, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, 9000 Rockville Pike, Building 15 K, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA

2 Section on Bipolar Spectrum Disorders, National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA

3 Department of Human Development, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA

4 Department of Quantitative Methodology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA

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Biology of Mood & Anxiety Disorders 2013, 3:14  doi:10.1186/2045-5380-3-14

Published: 12 July 2013


Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is a common and debilitating condition that typically manifests in adolescence. Here we describe cognitive factors engaged by brain-imaging tasks, which model the peer-based social interactions that evoke symptoms of SAD. We then present preliminary results from the Virtual School paradigm, a novel peer-based social interaction task. This paradigm is designed to investigate the neural mechanisms mediating individual differences in social response flexibility and in participants’ responses to uncertainty in social contexts. We discuss the utility of this new paradigm for research on brain function and developmental psychopathology.

fMRI; Development; Peers; Uncertainty; Social cognition; Affect; Behavioral inhibition; Response flexibility; Peer victimization; Bullying