European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 133–140 | Cite as

Normal variation in behavioral adjustment relates to regional differences in cortical thickness in children

  • Kristine B. WalhovdEmail author
  • Christian K. Tamnes
  • Ylva Østby
  • Paulina Due-Tønnessen
  • Anders M. Fjell
Original Contribution


Neuroanatomical correlates of developmental psychopathology such as attention deficit hyperactivity and conduct disorder have been identified. The majority of studies point to lesser gray matter in psychopathology, often involving prefrontal cortices. The goal of this study was to test whether similar neural correlates exist for behavioral variance in healthy children and adolescents. A large sample (n = 106) aged 8–19 years underwent MR scanning and their parents completed the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire. The relationships between cortical thickness and conduct problems and hyperactivity/inattention scale scores were investigated throughout the cerebrum. No associations were found between normal variance in hyperactivity/inattention and cortical thickness. Normal variance in conduct problems was associated with thinner left hemisphere prefrontal and supramarginal cortices. Relationships between conduct problems and cortical thickness interacted with age, with the greatest differences in cortical thickness seen in the younger children. These interactions were observed in the anterior cingulate, orbitofrontal, middle and superior frontal, as well as lateral and medial temporal cortices. In conclusion, the results indicate neurobiological continuity between symptoms of conduct problems within the normal range, and conduct disorder. Relationships of thinner cortices and conduct problems were primarily seen in younger children, and appeared to decrease with age, indicative of different maturational trajectories in the groups. The long-term consequences are unknown, and the results point to a need for longitudinal studies of developmental trajectories of neuroanatomical foundations of behavioral adjustment.


Cortical thickness Orbitofrontal cortex Cingulate cortex Conduct problems Maturation 



We thank all participants and their families. This work was supported by grants from the Norwegian Research Council (177404/W50 and 186092/V50 to K.B.W., 170837/V50 to Ivar Reinvang, PhD, CSHC, University of Oslo, Norway), the University of Oslo (to K.B.W.), and the Department of Psychology, University of Oslo (to A.M.F.).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Supplementary material

787_2012_241_MOESM1_ESM.tif (4.1 mb)
Online Figure 1 Significant negative relationships between age and cortical thickness were seen bilaterally throughout most of the cortical mantle, both medially (upper panel) and laterally (lower panel) (cluster-wise p < .05, two-tailed, fully corrected for multiple comparisons across space). The results are shown as color-coded overlays and projected onto an inflated template brain. (TIFF 4209 kb)
787_2012_241_MOESM2_ESM.tif (4.4 mb)
Online Figure 2 Cortical thickness and conduct problems with IQ as a covariate in addition to age and sex Conduct problems was negatively related to cortical thickness in two clusters in the left hemisphere (cluster-wise p < .05, two-tailed, fully corrected for multiple comparisons across space). Sex and age were included as covariates. No relationships were seen in the opposite direction. The results are shown as color-coded overlays and projected onto an inflated template brain. (TIFF 4482 kb)
787_2012_241_MOESM3_ESM.tif (3.9 mb)
Online Figure 3 Age – conduct problems interactions on cortical thickness with IQ as a covariate in addition to age and sex Significant interactions between age and conduct problems were seen in three clusters in the left and two clusters in the right hemisphere (cluster-wise p < .05, two-tailed, fully corrected for multiple comparisons across space). All interactions were positive, meaning that thickness and conduct problems were more closely related in the younger than the older children. No relationships were seen in the opposite direction. The results are shown as color-coded overlays and projected onto an inflated template brain. (TIFF 4015 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kristine B. Walhovd
    • 1
    Email author
  • Christian K. Tamnes
    • 1
  • Ylva Østby
    • 1
  • Paulina Due-Tønnessen
    • 1
    • 2
  • Anders M. Fjell
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Center for the Study of Human Cognition (CSHC)University of OsloOsloNorway
  2. 2.Oslo University Hospital, RikshospitaletOsloNorway

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