Face processing capacities become more specialized and advanced during development, but neural underpinnings of these processes are not fully understood. The present study applied graph theory-based network analysis to task-negative (resting blocks) and task-positive (viewing faces) functional magnetic resonance imaging data in children (5-17 years) and adults (18-42 years) to test the hypothesis that the development of a specialized network for face processing is driven by task-positive processing (face viewing) more than by task-negative processing (visual fixation) and by both progressive and regressive changes in network properties. Predictive modeling was used to predict age from node-based network properties derived from task-positive and task-negative states in a whole-brain network (WBN) and a canonical face network (FN). The best-fitting model indicated that FN maturation was marked by both progressive and regressive changes in information diffusion (eigenvector centrality) in the task-positive state, with regressive changes outweighing progressive changes. Hence, FN maturation was characterized by reductions in information diffusion potentially reflecting the development of more specialized modules. In contrast, WBN maturation was marked by a balance of progressive and regressive changes in hub-connectivity (betweenness centrality) in the task-negative state. These findings suggest that the development of specialized networks like the FN depends on dynamic developmental changes associated with domain-specific information (e.g., face processing), but maturation of the brain as a whole can be predicted from task-free states.
Keywords: connectome; fMRI; face perception; functional connectivity; graph theory.