Electrophysiological correlates of attention networks in childhood and early adulthood.Neuropsychologia 2014; 57:78-92N
Attention has been related to functions of alerting, orienting, and executive control, which are associated with distinct brain networks. This study aimed at understanding the neural mechanisms underlying the development of attention functions during childhood. A total of 46 healthy 4-13-year-old children and 15 adults performed an adapted version of the Attention Network Task (ANT) while brain activation was registered with a high-density EEG system. Performance of the ANT revealed changes in the efficiency of attention networks across ages. While no differences were observed on the alerting score, both orienting and executive attention scores showed a more protracted developmental curve. Further, age-related differences in brain activity were mostly observed in early ERP components. Young children had poorer early processing of warning cues compared to 10-13-year-olds and adults, as shown by an immature auditory-evoked potential complex elicited by warning tones. Also, 4-6-year-olds exhibited a poorer processing of orienting cues as indexed by lack of modulation of the N1. Finally, flanker congruency produced earlier modulation of ERPs amplitude with age. Flanker congruency effects were delayed and more anteriorly distributed for young children, compared to adults who showed a clear modulation of the N2 in fronto-parietal channels. Additionally, interactions among attention networks were examined. Both alerting and orienting conditions modulated the effectiveness of conflict processing by the executive attention network. The Orienting×Executive networks interactions was only observed after about age 7. Results are informative of the neural correlates of the development of attention networks in childhood.