Development of ACC–amygdala activations in processing unattended fear

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Abstract

The ability to assess facial expressions of others involves specialised brain systems important for emotional and social learning, a skill that emerges over childhood. We investigated the development of neural responses associated with implicit processing of facial emotions using magnetoencephalography in children (7–10 yrs), adolescents (12–15 yrs) and adults. The results demonstrated spatial–temporal activations in the ACC and amygdala emotion-processing systems that changed with age. The processing of emotions first engaged the earlier-developing amygdala responses and then involved the later-maturing ACC system. With increasing age there was a shift in lateralization of amygdala responses sensitive to the fearful faces. The findings contribute to a critical understanding of the development related to functional specialization of fear perception in the frontal–limbic emotion systems. The present study offers critical insights into the developmentally time-sensitive impact on the normal functioning of these brain regions.

Highlights

□ Unattended emotions activate ACC–amygdala network through development. □ ACC activation sensitive to unattended fearful emotion develops through age. □ Amygdala laterality changes with age from left to right dominant sensitive to fear.

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