The Relations between Frontal Brain Electrical Activity and Cognitive Development during Infancy


  • The research presented in this paper was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (HD 17899) to Nathan A. Fox. We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Anne Luebering in data collection and coding. We would also like to thank Nancy Aaron Jones, Janine Smith, and Jill Mankowitz for assistance in data collection.

may be addressed to: Martha Ann Bell or Nathan A. Fox, Department of Human Development, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742.


The relations between changes in the scalp-recorded electroencephalogram (EEG) and the development of the ability to perform successfully 2 cognitive tasks attributed to frontal lobe functioning were examined in 13 infants from 7 to 12 months of age. Infants successful in performing the A-not-B task with increasingly longer delays across the second half of the first year of life showed changes in power in scalp-recorded brain electrical activity in the frontal region and an increase in anterior/posterior EEG coherence. Infants with rapid mastery of object retrieval did not differ in frontal EEG development from infants who exhibited the normal developmental progression in object retrieval performance. In a task examining inhibition of reaching to a novel toy, there were no differences in frontal EEG as a function of performance. Results from a cross-sectional sample revealed similar findings. These data confirm work with nonhuman primates on the importance of maturation of frontal cortex in the successful performance on certain tasks (A-not-B), but do not confirm nonhuman primate data on the importance of frontal cortex for other tasks (object retrieval). The data also suggest that the electroencephalogram may be useful as a noninvasive measure of central nervous system development during the first year of life.