Development of attentional networks in childhood

Neuropsychologia. 2004;42(8):1029-40. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2003.12.012.


Recent research in attention has involved three networks of anatomical areas that carry out the functions of orienting, alerting and executive control (including conflict monitoring). There have been extensive cognitive and neuroimaging studies of these networks in adults. We developed an integrated Attention Network Test (ANT) to measure the efficiency of the three networks with adults. We have now adapted this test to study the development of these networks during childhood. The test is a child-friendly version of the flanker task with alerting and orienting cues. We studied the development of the attentional networks in a cross-sectional experiment with four age groups ranging from 6 through 9 (Experiment 1). In a second experiment, we compared children (age 10 years) and adult performance in both child and adults versions of the ANT. Reaction time and accuracy improved at each age interval and positive values were found for the average efficiency of each of the networks. Alertness showed evidence of change up to and beyond age 10, while conflict scores appear stable after age seven and orienting scores do not change in the age range studied. A final experiment with forty 7-year-old children suggested that children like adults showed independence between the three networks under some conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Child
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mesencephalon / physiology
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests / statistics & numerical data
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Problem Solving / physiology
  • Psychometrics / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reference Values
  • Reproducibility of Results