Midfrontal Theta Power and Attention in Middle Childhood

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Virginia Tech


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.



Midfrontal theta, middle childhood, temperament, attention networks