Neurocognitive Development of the Resolution of Selective Visuo-Spatial Attention: Functional MRI Evidence From Object Tracking

Front Psychol. 2018 Jul 30;9:1106. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01106. eCollection 2018.


Our ability to select relevant information from the environment is limited by the resolution of attention - i.e., the minimum size of the region that can be selected. Neural mechanisms that underlie this limit and its development are not yet understood. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was performed during an object tracking task in 7- and 11-year-old children, and in young adults. Object tracking activated canonical fronto-parietal attention systems and motion-sensitive area MT in children as young as 7 years. Object tracking performance improved with age, together with stronger recruitment of parietal attention areas and a shift from low-level to higher-level visual areas. Increasing the required resolution of spatial attention - which was implemented by varying the distance between target and distractors in the object tracking task - led to activation increases in fronto-insular cortex, medial frontal cortex including anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and supplementary motor area, superior colliculi, and thalamus. This core circuitry for attentional precision was recruited by all age groups, but ACC showed an age-related activation reduction. Our results suggest that age-related improvements in selective visual attention and in the resolution of attention are characterized by an increased use of more functionally specialized brain regions during the course of development.

Keywords: development; functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); object tracking; selective attention; visuo-spatial attention.