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Brain Behav. 2018 Sep;8(9):e01063. doi: 10.1002/brb3.1063. Epub 2018 Jul 26.

Neural activity patterns between different executive tasks are more similar in adulthood than in adolescence.

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Department of Psychology and Logopedics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland.
AMI Centre, Aalto NeuroImaging, Aalto University School of Science, Espoo, Finland.
Department of Neuroscience and Biomedical Engineering, Aalto University School of Science, Espoo, Finland.
Department of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland.
Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland.
Institute of Education, University College London, London, UK.
Optentia Research Focus Area, North-West University, Vanderbijlpark, South Africa.



Adolescence is a time of ongoing neural maturation and cognitive development, especially regarding executive functions. In the current study, age-related differences in the neural correlates of different executive functions were tracked by comparing three age groups consisting of adolescents and young adults.


Brain activity was measured with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) from 167 human participants (13- to 14-year-old middle adolescents, 16- to 17-year-old late adolescents and 20- to 24-year-old young adults; 80 female, 87 male) while they performed attention and working memory tasks. The tasks were designed to tap into four putative sub-processes of executive function: division of attention, inhibition of distractors, working memory, and attention switching.


Behaviorally, our results demonstrated superior task performance in older participants across all task types. When brain activity was examined, young adult participants demonstrated a greater degree of overlap between brain regions recruited by the different executive tasks than adolescent participants. Similarly, functional connectivity between frontoparietal cortical regions was less task specific in the young adult participants than in adolescent participants.


Together, these results demonstrate that the similarity between different executive processes in terms of both neural recruitment and functional connectivity increases with age from middle adolescence to early adulthood, possibly contributing to age-related behavioral improvements in executive functioning. These developmental changes in brain recruitment may reflect a more homogenous morphological organization between process-specific neural networks, increased reliance on a more domain-general network involved in executive processing, or developmental changes in cognitive strategy.


adolescence; brain imaging; development; executive functions; fMRI; functional connectivity

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