A Novel Ecological Account of Prefrontal Cortex Functional Development

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In this paper, we argue that prefrontal cortex ontogenetic functional development is best understood through an ecological lens. We first begin by reviewing evidence supporting the existing consensus that PFC structural and functional development is protracted based on maturational constraints. We then examine recent findings from neuroimaging studies in infants, early life stress research, and connectomics that support the novel hypothesis that PFC functional development is driven by reciprocal processes of neural adaptation and niche construction. We discuss implications and predictions of this model for redefining the construct of executive functions and for informing typical and atypical child development. This ecological account of PFC functional development moves beyond descriptions of development that are characteristic of existing frameworks, and provides novel insights into the mechanisms of developmental change, including its catalysts and influences.

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