Connecting the dots: social networks in the classroom and white matter connections in the brain

Rosa H. Mulder*, Mónica López-Vicente, Andrea P. Cortes Hidalgo, Lisa R. Steenkamp, Berna Güroğlu, Henning Tiemeier, Ryan L. Muetzel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
48 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Peer connections in school classrooms play an important role in social–emotional development and mental health. However, research on the association between children's peer relationships and white matter connections in the brain is scarce. We studied associations between peer relationships in the classroom and white matter structural connectivity in a pediatric population-based sample. Methods: Bullying and victimization, as well as rejection and acceptance, were assessed in classrooms in 634 children at age 7. White matter microstructure (fractional anisotropy (FA), mean diffusivity (MD)) was measured with diffusion tensor imaging at age 10. We examined global metrics of white matter microstructure and used Tract-Based Spatial Statistics (TBSS) for voxel-wise associations. Results: Peer victimization was associated with higher global FA and lower global MD and peer rejection was associated with lower global MD; however, these associations did not remain after multiple testing correction. Voxel-wise TBSS results for peer victimization and rejection were in line with global metrics both in terms of direction and spatial extent of the associations, with associated voxels (pFWE <.05) observed throughout the brain (including corpus callosum, corona radiata, sagittal stratum and superior longitudinal fasciculi). Conclusions: Although based only on cross-sectional data, the findings could indicate accelerated white matter microstructure maturation in certain brain areas of children who are victimized or rejected more often. However, repeated measurements are essential to unravel this complex interplay of peer connections, maturation and brain development over time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1622-1630
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines
Issue number12
Early online date7 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health.


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