Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department / School

Sociology and Rural Studies

First Advisor

Lee A. Baugh

Second Advisor

Jessica D. Ulrich-Schad


Adolescence, Brain Maturation, Electroencephalography, ERP, Intergroup Bias, Social Neuroscience


Currently, sociological investigation of adolescent behavior focuses on the intersection of biography, history, and structure to explain adolescent risk-taking, reward-seeking, impulsivity, novelty-seeking and peer-salience. However, the preponderance of the evidence points away from social ecology and to a significant neuromaturational restructuring event between the 12th and 25th years of life as the root of adolescent behavioral tendencies. As a result, sociological social psychology can benefit from engaging in basic research using neuroscience methods. The present study expands the dual systems model of brain development to account for maturational changes in the social brain network as a way to explain social cognitive differences between adolescents and adults specific to intergroup processing. Central questions driving this research are: why are adolescents disproportionately involved with ultra-tribalistic coalitions and why do they engage in higher rates of coalitional violence than at any other time period in the lifespan? Current social and behavioral evidence suggests that adolescents think about their social worlds very differently than do adults. However, traditional self-report methods and functional magnetic resonance imaging are unable to access early neural responses to intergroup stimuli that are largely unavailable to introspection and require techniques that offer high temporal resolution such as electroencephalography and the event related potential technique. To address these methodological concerns, the present study used notional groups based upon subjects’ political orientation and a complex memory and evaluation task to assess differences in adolescent (18 – 19 yr) and adult (30 – 35 yr) processing of ingroup versus outgroup stimuli on congruent and incongruent trials (5,000 milliseconds [ms]). The 2x2x2x3 design investigated the within-subjects variables of group (ingroup & outgroup), congruency (congruent & incongruent), and electrode (Fz,Cz,Pz) on the P2 and N2 ERP component amplitude. The study had two hypotheses: 1) that an age-mediated activation pattern would be discernable and 2) that N2 amplitude would be higher for adolescent ingroup members versus adult ingroup members due to increased emotional sensitivity to group membership. Neither hypothesis was supported due to statistical constraints arising from group size disparities, however, many interesting additional results were observed. These included different activation patterns predicted by social brain network maturation, as well as, different motivational drivers for adults versus adolescents.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Electroencephalography -- Age factors.
Cognitive neuroscience.
Social psychology.
Maturation (Psychology)
Evoked potentials (Electrophysiology)
Group identity.



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University



Rights Statement

In Copyright