How neural correlates of self-concept are influenced by environmental versus genetic factors is currently not fully understood. We investigated heritability estimates of behavioral and neural correlates of self-concept in middle childhood since this phase is an important time window for taking on new social roles in academic and social contexts. To do so, a validated self-concept fMRI task was applied in a twin sample of 345 participants aged between 7 and 9 years. In the self-concept condition, participants were asked to indicate whether academic and social traits applied to them whereas the control condition required trait categorization. The self-processing activation analyses (n = 234) revealed stronger medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) activation for self than for control conditions. This effect was more pronounced for social-self than academic self-traits, whereas stronger dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) activation was observed for academic versus social self-evaluations. Behavioral genetic modeling (166 complete twin pairs) revealed that 25–52% of the variation in academic self-evaluations was explained by genetic factors, whereas 16–49% of the variation in social self-evaluations was explained by shared environmental factors. Neural genetic modeling (91 complete twin pairs) for variation in mPFC and anterior prefrontal cortex (PFC) activation for academic self-evaluations confirmed genetic and unique environmental influences, whereas anterior PFC activation for social self-evaluations was additionally influenced by shared environmental influences. This indicates that environmental context possibly has a larger impact on the behavioral and neural correlates of social self-concept at a young age. This is the first study demonstrating in a young twin sample that self-concept depends on both genetic and environmental factors, depending on the specific domain.
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We thank the participating families for their enthusiastic involvement in the Leiden Consortium on Individual Development (L‐CID). We are also grateful to the data‐collection and data‐processing team, including all current and former students, research assistants, PhD students and postdoctoral researchers for their dedicated and invaluable contributions. Marinus van IJzendoorn, Eveline Crone and Marian Bakermans‐Kranenburg designed the L‐CID experimental cohort‐sequential twin study “Samen Uniek” as part of the Consortium on Individual Development (CID; Gravitation grant 2013–2023 awarded by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture, & Science, and the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, NWO grant number 024.001.003).
© 2021 The Authors. Human Brain Mapping published by Wiley Periodicals LLC.