Midfrontal Theta Power and Attention in Middle Childhood
Harrison, J. Douglas Jr.
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Middle childhood is a critical period of attentional development. Previous research has linked neural oscillations in the theta frequency band to controlled attentional and cognitive processes, which has been replicated in children and adults. The development of executive attention, which biases attention and alters mental representation in the service of task goals, is preceded by development of sustained attention, and further selective sustained attention. These three attentional constructs can be represented by Posner’s altering (sustained) orienting (selective sustained) and executive attention networks. Effortful control, a temperament trait describing individual differences in ability to exert self-regulation, has been linked to efficiency of the executive attention system. To examine attentional engagement (within task) and demand (between task) electroencephalography was recorded from 226 six- and nine-year-old children at medial and lateral, frontal, and parietal scalp locations during a baseline, visual search, and the Attention Network Task to measure sustained, selective sustained and executive attention, respectively. Repeated measures MANOVA of frontal and parietal scalp locations indicate multiple complex three-way interactions of region (medial vs lateral), Age, and Block/Task. Frontal and parietal activation patterns were also different from each other, as well as between age groups. When temperament factors, effortful control and surgency, were included in the model (repeated measures MANCOVA) most interactions were no longer significant. We therefore find, in accord with previous literature, that medial frontal theta is impacted by attentional engagement and demand but this association is heavily impacted by individual biologically based differences.
General Audience Abstract
During middle childhood, kids' ability to pay attention develops into a more sophisticated, adult-like form. Scientists have found that the way our brain waves work in a certain frequency (called theta) is connected to our ability to focus and think. This is true for both kids and adults. There are three critical forms of attention identified by developmental and cognitive researchers. First, there's the kind where you can stay focused on something for a while. Then, there's another type where you not only stay focused but also pick out specific things to focus on. Lastly, there's the kind where you can change your focus to fit the task you're doing. Our goal was to examine how theta brain waves relate to each of these forms of attention and how those change after three years. Using the electroencephalography technique, we measured brain activity of used a special brain scanning technique on 226 kids when they were six and nine years old, while they completed three tasks. One analysis focused on attentional engagement, how children focused over the course of a single task, and the other on attentional demand, how children focused differently as tasks got more difficult. We found power in the theta frequency band decreased with age, which means that children’s attentional processing was more efficient the older they were. We also found that theta in the front of the brain did not change greatly over the course of the task except for the initial set of trials. This was different from the middle regions of the brain, which changed a lot over the course of the task. Theta power in both frontal and middle parts of the brain was different between the tasks, and harder tasks were associated with more theta. Finally, we found that temperament, a child’s individual self-control and excitability, greatly explained the differences in theta power over the tasks.
- Masters Theses