What a difference a decade makes

repeat a task several times and the results from the entire set of repetitions are averaged together to produce an image. Schlaggar, however, evaluated each repetition individually using an approach called event-related analysis. This technique minimizes the amount that head movements cloud the images, thereby making verbal responses feasible. With a verbal response, the researchers could analyze both reaction time and accuracy, and could ensure that the children and adults were in fact performing the task as instructed.

The researchers identified six subregions within the left frontal and extrastriate cortex in child and adult participants. These six regions four in the frontal cortex and two in the extrastriate cortex were examined more carefully to answer the most critical question: Are there differences due to brain maturation or are any of the differences simply the result of slower and less accurate performance by children?

To answer this key question, they divided the participants into two categories: The matched category contained performance data that was similar for both groups; the non-matched group contained data where adults and children clearly performed differently.

Of the six regions examined, two one in the frontal cortex, one in the extrastriate cortex revealed differences in brain activity in both the matched and unmatched groups, indicating an age-related effect rather than a performance-related effect. The extrastriate region was more active in children than adults, whereas the frontal region was active in adults and not in children.

According to Schlaggar, there are two important lessons from these results. First, children do appear to use their brains differently than adults when successfully performing identical language tasks. Second, although multiple regions appeared to be differentially active when comparing adults and children, many of those differences were due to performance discrepancies, not age-

Contact: Joni Westerhouse
Washington University School of Medicine

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