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Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2011 Apr;1(2):175-86. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2010.11.001.

Neural indices of improved attentional modulation over middle childhood.

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Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720, United States.


The ability to control the focus of attention relies on top-down modulation of cortical activity in areas involved in stimulus processing, and this ability is critical for maintaining items in working memory in the presence of distraction. Prior research demonstrates that children are less capable of focusing attention, relative to adults, and that this ability develops significantly during middle childhood. Here, using fMRI and a face/scene working memory task adapted from Gazzaley and colleagues (Gazzaley et al. 2005), we compared top-down modulation in fifteen children (aged 8-13) and fifteen young adults (aged 19-26). Replicating prior results, in young adults, attention to scenes modulated activity in the parahippocampal place area (PPA). In addition, modulation of PPA activity increased as a function of age in children. PPA activity was also related to performance in this group, on the working memory task as well on a test of subsequent memory. Dorsolateral PFC also demonstrated increasing task-specific activation, as a function of age, in children. The present findings support the idea that children's reduced ability to maintain items in working memory, especially in the presence of distraction, is driven by weaker top-down modulation of activity in areas involved in stimulus processing.


cognitive control; development; parahippocampal place area; working memory

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