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Br J Dev Psychol. 2017 Jun;35(2):169-185. doi: 10.1111/bjdp.12154. Epub 2016 Aug 4.

Development in attention functions and social processing: Evidence from the Attention Network Test.

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Department of Social and Developmental Psychology, Sapienza University of Rome, Italy.
Department of Psychology, Sapienza University of Rome, Italy.
Department of Experimental Psychology and Physiology of Behaviour, Mind, Brain, and Behavior Research Center, University of Granada, Spain.
Faculty of Social Science, Autonomous University of Chile, Santiago, Chile.


According to the attention network approach, attention is best understood in terms of three functionally and neuroanatomically distinct networks - alerting, orienting, and executive attention. Recent findings showed that social information influences the efficiency of these networks in adults. Using some social and non-social variants of the Attentional Network Test (ANT), this study was aimed to evaluate the development of the three attention networks in childhood, also assessing the development of the ability to manage social or non-social conflicting information. Sixty-six children (three groups of 6, 8, and 10 years of age) performed three variants of the original ANT, using fish, schematic, or real faces looking to the left or right as target and flanker stimuli. Results showed an improvement from 6 to 8 and 10 years of age in reaction time (RT) and accuracy, together with an improvement of executive control and a decrement in alerting. These developmental changes were not unique to social stimuli, and no differences were observed between social and no-social variants of the ANT. However, independently from the age of the children, a real face positively affected the executive control (as indexed by RTs) as compared to both a schematic face and a fish. Findings of this study suggest that attentional networks are still developing from 6 to 10 years of age and underline the importance of face information in modulating the efficiency of executive control. Statement of contribution What is already known? Younger children made more errors and slower reaction times (RTs) than older children, in line with the majority of the past selective attention studies. Younger children showed both greater conflict and alerting effect than older children. The prediction that younger children would display larger interference effects than older children was supported. What does this study add? Extending the findings observed in adults and children, independently from their age, demonstrated greater cognitive interference (i.e., slower RTs and higher percentage of errors to incongruent relative to congruent conditions) when fish and schematic faces were presented than when photographs of real faces were used as stimuli. Like adults, children have a greater ability in the control of social information as compared to non-social information. These results seem to indicate that the ability to handle social conflicts proceeds in parallel with the ability to manage non-social conflicting information.


Attention Network Test; alerting; development of human attentional system; executive control; eye gaze; orienting

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