Joint attention, the shared attentional focus of at least two people on a third significant object, is one of the earliest steps in social development and an essential aspect of reciprocal interaction. However, the neural basis of joint attention (JA) in the course of development is completely unknown. The present study made use of an interactive eye-tracking paradigm in order to examine the developmental trajectories of JA and the influence of a familiar interaction partner during the social encounter. Our results show that across children and adolescents JA elicits a similar network of "social brain" areas as well as attention and motor control associated areas as in adults. While other-initiated JA particularly recruited visual, attention and social processing areas, self-initiated JA specifically activated areas related to social cognition, decision-making, emotions and motivational/reward processes highlighting the rewarding character of self-initiated JA. Activation was further enhanced during self-initiated JA with a familiar interaction partner. With respect to developmental effects, activation of the precuneus declined from childhood to adolescence and additionally shifted from a general involvement in JA towards a more specific involvement for self-initiated JA. Similarly, the temporoparietal junction (TPJ) was broadly involved in JA in children and more specialized for self-initiated JA in adolescents. Taken together, this study provides first-time data on the developmental trajectories of JA and the effect of a familiar interaction partner incorporating the interactive character of JA, its reciprocity and motivational aspects. (C) 2016 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved
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