DOI: 10.1111/jcpp.13937 ISSN: 0021-9630

A network approach to the investigation of childhood irritability: probing frustration using social stimuli

Khalil I. Thompson, Clayton J. Schneider, Justin A. Lopez‐Roque, Susan B. Perlman, Helmet T. Karim, Lauren S. Wakschlag
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology and Child Health


Self‐regulation in early childhood develops within a social context. Variations in such development can be attributed to inter‐individual behavioral differences, which can be captured both as facets of temperament and across a normal:abnormal dimensional spectrum. With increasing emphasis on irritability as a robust early‐life transdiagnostic indicator of broad psychopathological risk, linkage to neural mechanisms is imperative. Currently, there is inconsistency in the identification of neural circuits that underlie irritability in children, especially in social contexts. This study aimed to address this gap by utilizing a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) paradigm to investigate pediatric anger/frustration using social stimuli.


Seventy‐three children (M = 6 years, SD = 0.565) were recruited from a larger longitudinal study on irritability development. Caregivers completed questionnaires assessing irritable temperament and clinical symptoms of irritability. Children participated in a frustration task during fMRI scanning that was designed to induce frustration through loss of a desired prize to an animated character. Data were analyzed using both general linear modeling (GLM) and independent components analysis (ICA) and examined from the temperament and clinical perspectives.


ICA results uncovered an overarching network structure above and beyond what was revealed by traditional GLM analyses. Results showed that greater temperamental irritability was associated with significantly diminished spatial extent of activation and low‐frequency power in a network comprised of the posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) and the precuneus (p < .05, FDR‐corrected). However, greater severity along the spectrum of clinical expression of irritability was associated with significantly increased extent and intensity of spatial activation as well as low‐ and high‐frequency neural signal power in the right caudate (p < .05, FDR‐corrected).


Our findings point to specific neural circuitry underlying pediatric irritability in the context of frustration using social stimuli. Results suggest that a deliberate focus on the construction of network‐based neurodevelopmental profiles and social interaction along the normal:abnormal irritability spectrum is warranted to further identify comprehensive transdiagnostic substrates of the irritability.

More from our Archive