Using developmental cognitive neuroscience to study behavioral and attentional control.
Astle DE., Scerif G.
Adult cognitive neuroscience employs a wide variety of techniques to investigate a broad range of behavioral and cognitive functions. One prominent area of study is that of executive control, complemented by a smaller but growing literature exploring the developmental cognitive neuroscience of executive control. To date this approach has often compared children with specific developmental disorders, such as ADHD and ASD, with typically developing controls. Whilst these comparisons have done much to advance our understanding of the neural markers that underpin behavioral difficulties at specific time-points in development, we contend that they should leave developmental cognitive neuroscientists wanting. Studying the neural correlates of typical changes in executive control in their own right can reveal how different neural mechanisms characteristic of the adult end-state emerge, and it can therefore inform the adult cognitive neuroscience of executive control itself. The current review addresses the extent to which developmentalists and adult cognitive neuroscientists have tapped this common ground. Some very elegant investigations illustrate how seemingly common processes in adulthood present as separable in childhood, on the basis of their distinctive developmental trajectories. These demonstrations have implications not only for an understanding of changing behavior from infancy through childhood and adolescence into adulthood, but, moreover, for our grasp of the adult end-state per se. We contend that, if used appropriately, developmental cognitive neuroscience could enable us to construct a more mechanistic account of executive control.