Children recruit distinct neural systems for implicit emotional face processing

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The ability to properly distinguish facial emotions has a protracted development, not maturing until well into adolescence. Emotional faces activate emotion-specific neural networks in adults; whether these networks are operational in children is not known. Using an implicit face-processing task in 10-year-old children, we determined that the emotions of fear, disgust and sadness recruited distinct neural systems. These systems included a number of regions typically associated with processing emotions in adults, namely the amygdala and parahippocampal gyrus, insula and cingulate gyrus, as well as the fusiform and superior temporal gyri. Thus, in spite of immature behavioral responses to emotional faces in explicit tasks, neural networks for emotion-specific processing are present in young children.

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