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Abstract

Face processing undergoes a fairly protracted developmental time course but the neural underpinnings are not well understood. Prior fMRI studies have only examined progressive changes (i.e. increases in specialization in certain regions with age), which would be predicted by both the Interactive Specialization (IS) and maturational theories of neural development. To differentiate between these accounts, the present study also examined regressive changes (i.e. decreases in specialization in certain regions with age), which is predicted by the IS but not the maturational account. The fMRI results show that both progressive and regressive changes occur, consistent with IS. Progressive changes mostly occurred in occipital-fusiform and inferior frontal cortex, whereas regressive changes largely emerged in parietal and lateral temporal cortices. Moreover, inconsistent with the maturational account, all of the regions involved in face viewing in adults were active in children, with some regions already specialized for face processing by 5 years of age and other regions activated in children but not specifically for faces. Thus, neurodevelopment of face processing involves dynamic interactions among brain regions including age-related increases and decreases in specialization and the involvement of different regions at different ages. These results are more consistent with IS than maturational models of neural development.