Research Topic

Defining social phenotypes in neurodevelopmental disorders – contributions to social cognitive affective neuroscience

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Interest in neurodevelopmental disorders as possible windows into the neurogenetic basis of the “social mind” has grown exponentially in the last decades. This interest has been fueled jointly by the development of increasingly refined characterizations of the social-behavioral phenotypes associated with ...

Interest in neurodevelopmental disorders as possible windows into the neurogenetic basis of the “social mind” has grown exponentially in the last decades. This interest has been fueled jointly by the development of increasingly refined characterizations of the social-behavioral phenotypes associated with particular syndromes of genetic origin, and by advances in molecular genetics, promising to shed light on genotype-phenotype relationships. Over the last decades, research has made significant progress in refining the phenotypic descriptions of many neurodevelopmental disorders, including those of rare incidence. With advances in this work, it has gradually become apparent that distinctive profiles of social traits are frequently associated with different syndromes. The new awareness of the syndromic specificity of social phenotypes in developmental disorders has raised a set of challenging questions for research and clinical practice. At a theoretical level debates have focused on whether specific disorders provide evidence for or against a modular view of the mind, whether specific cognitive functions may develop along alternative pathways, and whether there are fundamental differences between brain and behavior development in atypical populations. There has been a growing appreciation that the answers to these debates are not as clear-cut as was once thought, because of the highly complex relationships between genes, brain development, environments and behavior that are evident in even the simplest and best understood single gene disorders. Researchers have just recently started to examine systematically the variability in the expression of social cognitive and affective processes in well-defined neurodevelopmental disorders, from the standpoint of an etiology-based approach to atypical development. With investigations focusing on particular aspects of social-behavioral profiles in these populations, such as empathy processes, anxiety, social engagement, social attention and social cognition, new debates about the nature, causes and interpretation of social impairments have emerged in the literature.

This Frontiers Research Topic issue aims to bring together contributions from researchers whose work addresses these issues by focusing on social cognitive-affective development in populations whose phenotypes include core features that are related to social behavior, such as autism, fragile X syndrome, Williams syndrome, Down syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Turner syndrome, to name a few. This Research Topic issue is open to contributions from research on a variety of other populations with neurodevelopmental disorders, and to researchers from related fields, as it aims to provide an interdisciplinary perspective on the relevance of studying atypical development for advancing our understanding of the ‘social mind’. Cross-syndrome comparisons and developmental analyses are especially valuable methodological approaches that could broaden and deepen this discussion.

We solicit contributions in a variety of formats, from original empirical research reports, to methodological, review and opinion papers that can advance our understanding of how neurodevelopmental disorders can illuminate complex aspects of the neurobiology of social-emotional functioning and social cognition along varied developmental trajectories.


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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