NeuroImage (Feb 2024)

Unraveling how the adolescent brain deals with criticism using dynamic causal modeling

  • Qinyuan Chen,
  • Sam Luc Bart Bonduelle,
  • Guo-Rong Wu,
  • Marie-Anne Vanderhasselt,
  • Rudi De Raedt,
  • Chris Baeken

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 286
p. 120510


Read online

Sensitivity to criticism, which can be defined as a negative evaluation that a person receives from someone else, is considered a risk factor for the development of psychiatric disorders in adolescents. They may be more vulnerable to social evaluation than adults and exhibit more inadequate emotion regulation strategies such as rumination. The neural network involved in dealing with criticism in adolescents may serve as a biomarker for vulnerability to depression. However, the directions of the functional interactions between the brain regions within this neural network in adolescents are still unclear. In this study, 64 healthy adolescents (aged 14 to 17 years) were asked to listen to a series of self-referential auditory segments, which included negative (critical), positive (praising), and neutral conditions, during fMRI scanning. Dynamic Causal Modeling (DCM) with Parametric Empirical Bayesian (PEB) analysis was performed to map the interactions within the neural network that was engaged during the processing of these segments. Three regions were identified to form the interaction network: the left pregenual anterior cingulate cortex (pgACC), the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), and the right precuneus (preCUN). We quantified the modulatory effects of exposure to criticism and praise on the effective connectivity between these brain regions. Being criticized was found to significantly inhibit the effective connectivity from the preCUN to the DLPFC. Adolescents who scored high on the Perceived Criticism Measure (PCM) showed less inhibition of the preCUN-to-DLPFC connectivity when being criticized, which may indicate that they required more engagement of the Central Executive Network (which includes the DLPFC) to sufficiently disengage from negative self-referential processing. Furthermore, the inhibitory connectivity from the DLPFC to the pgACC was strengthened by exposure to praise as well as criticism, suggesting a recruitment of cognitive control over emotional responses when dealing with positive and negative evaluative feedback. Our novel findings contribute to a more profound understanding of how criticism affects the adolescent brain and can help to identify potential biomarkers for vulnerability to develop mood disorders before or during adulthood.