Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy Evidence for Development of Prefrontal Engagement in Working Memory in Early Through Middle Childhood

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The neural underpinnings of working memory are hypothesized to develop incrementally across preschool and early school age, coinciding with the rapid maturation of executive function occurring during this period. This study investigates the development of prefrontal cortex function between the ages of 3 and 7. Children (n = 68) participated in a novel spatial working memory task while their middle and lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC) was monitored using functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). We found increased activation of the LPFC when comparing working memory to rest. Greater LPFC increase was noted for longer compared with shorter delay periods. Increase in LPFC activation, accuracy, and response speed were positively correlated with child age, suggesting that developmental changes in prefrontal function might underlie effective development of executive function in this age range.

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