January 21, 2021

Dissecting the midlife crisis: Disentangling social, personality and demographic determinants in social brain anatomy

In any stage of life, humans crave social connection with other people. In midlife, transitions in social networks can be related to new leadership roles at work or becoming a caregiver for aging parents. Previous neuroimaging studies have reported that during midlife, especially the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) undergoes structural remodeling changes. Social behavior, personality predisposition, and demographic profile all bear intimate relation with the mPFC according to separate literature streams. To integrate these three areas commonly studied in isolation, we explicitly modeled their unique links with brain structure using a fully probabilistic framework. We weighed against each other a rich collection of 40 traits with their interindividual variation in social brain morphology in ~10,000 middle-aged UK Biobank participants (40-69 years at recruitment). Across conducted analyses, household size and daily routine schedules showed several of the largest effects in explaining variation in social brain regions. We revealed male-biased effects in the dorsal mPFC and amygdala for job income, and a female-biased effect in the ventral mPFC for health satisfaction. Our population investigation offers a more complete perspective into how adults at the midlife milestone may navigate life depending on their identity and status.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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