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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Apr 7;106(14):6017-21. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0809747106. Epub 2009 Mar 30.

Neural origin of cognitive shifting in young children.

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Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies, Department of General Systems Studies, University of Tokyo, 3-8-1 Komaba, Meguro, Tokyo 153-8902, Japan.


Cognitive shifting is the ability to adapt to changes in the environment. Extensive research has revealed that the prefrontal cortex plays an important role in cognitive shifting. Adult neuroimaging studies have shown that the inferior prefrontal cortex is activated during cognitive shifting tasks. Developmental studies have shown that cognitive shifting changes significantly during preschool years. It is known that 3-year-old children often perseverate to previous mental sets, whereas 5-year-old children do not. Developmental psychologists assume that maturation of the prefrontal cortex plays an essential role in the development of shifting; however, direct supporting evidence is lacking. We used near-infrared spectroscopy and showed that inferior prefrontal activation is associated with successful shifting in young children. We also showed that even preschool children display adult-like inferior prefrontal activation during a simple cognitive shifting task. This report demonstrates the neural origins of cognitive shifting in young children. These results have the potential to contribute to our understanding of cognitive and brain development in both typically and atypically developed children.

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