American Psychological Foundation

As research has documented, adolescents who are rejected by their peers are at greater risk for anxiety and depression. In 2008, while a graduate student at UCLA, Carrie Masten, PhD, currently at Vanderbilt University, used a $25,000 APF Elizabeth Munsterberg Koppitz Fellowship to better understand the impact of adolescent peer rejection using neuroimaging and behavioral techniques.

Some of Masten's key findings revealed that adolescents display unique neural patterns when they feel distress during peer rejection. For example, adolescents appear to regulate emotional responses to peer rejection using neural regions that develop earlier than those typically engaged by adults. This difference might help explain why teens feel more distress when they are rejected by their peers. Masten's study provided an important first step toward understanding peer rejection in the context of the developing adolescent brain, and contributed new evidence regarding the underlying processes that might support individuals' responses to rejection.

Masten's findings suggest that responsivity in some regions of the brain may serve as a marker of adolescents' risk for future depression. The work is the first to demonstrate a neural link between peer rejection and depressive symptoms during adolescence.

Masten has published this research in several journals, including Development and Psychopathology and Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

Masten credits the Koppitz fellowship with her success in graduate school. "The Koppitz fellowship enabled me to complete a high-quality dissertation, obtain complex training in neuroimaging, and earn respect as an up-and-coming scholar in my field," she says. "I believe that my research — which began with the support of the fellowship — has significantly impacted this exciting and growing field and influenced the research directions of many of my fellow colleagues."

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