Social goals in girls transitioning to adolescence: associations with psychopathology and brain network connectivity


The motivation to socially connect with peers increases during adolescence in parallel with changes in neurodevelopment. These changes in social motivation create opportunities for experiences that can impact risk for psychopathology, but the specific motivational presentations that confer greater psychopathology risk are not fully understood. To address this issue, we used a latent profile analysis to identify the multidimensional presentations of self-reported social goals in a sample of 220 girls (9-15 years old, M = 11.81, SD = 1.81) that was enriched for internalizing symptoms, and tested the association between social goal profiles and psychopathology. Associations between social goals and brain network connectivity were also examined in a subsample of 138 youth. Preregistered analyses revealed four unique profiles of social goal presentations in these girls. Greater psychopathology was associated with heightened social goals such that higher clinical symptoms were related to a greater desire to attain social competence, avoid negative feedback and gain positive feedback from peers. The profiles endorsing these excessive social goals were characterized by denser connections among social-affective and cognitive control brain regions. These findings thus provide preliminary support for adolescent-onset changes in motivating factors supporting social engagement that may contribute to risk for psychopathology in vulnerable girls.