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Soc Neurosci. 2010;5(5-6):533-42. doi: 10.1080/17470911003683219.

Regulatory brain development: balancing emotion and cognition.

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University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, 121 Meyran Ave., Room 203, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.


Emotion regulation is a critical aspect of children's social development, yet few studies have examined the brain mechanisms involved in its development. Theoretical accounts have conceptualized emotion regulation as relying on prefrontal control of limbic regions, specifying the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) as a key brain region. Functional magnetic resonance imaging in 5- to 11-year-olds during emotion regulation and processing of emotionally expressive faces revealed that older children preferentially recruited the more dorsal “cognitive” areas of the ACC, while younger children preferentially engaged the more ventral “emotional” areas. Additionally, children with more fearful temperaments exhibited more ventral ACC activity while less fearful children exhibited increased activity in the dorsal ACC. These findings provide insight into a potential neurobiological mechanism underlying well-documented behavioral and cognitive changes from more emotional to more cognitive regulatory strategies with increasing age, as well as individual differences in this developmental process as a function of temperament. Our results hold important implications for our understanding of normal development and should also help to inform our understanding and management of emotional disorders.

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