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.
|Number of pages
|Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines
|Early online date
|7 Jun 2022
|Published - Dec 2022
Bibliographical notePublisher 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.