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Cognitive and Emotional Components of Frontal Lobe Functioning in Childhood and Adolescence


Address for correspondence: Isabelle M. Rosso, Ph.D., McLean Hospital, Brain Imaging Center, 115 Mill Street, Belmont, MA 02478. Voice: 617-855-2607; fax: 617-855-3713.


Abstract: Frontal lobe functions include a range of cognitive, emotional, and social abilities that enable goal-directed behavior. Although a number of studies have plotted the development of frontal lobe functions in childhood, few have extended into the adolescent years. There is also little information on which cognitive and emotional components of frontal functioning may be correlated. The aims of this study were to identify and compare age effects on different components of frontal functioning in childhood and adolescence and to examine whether abstract reasoning skills were associated with levels of emotional intelligence and social sensitivity. Twenty children (ages 9-18) were recruited from the local community for a study of normal adolescent brain development. All subjects were free of psychiatric or developmental disorders, as determined by a structured interview. Subjects completed a comprehensive neuropsychological test battery, as well as self-report measures of social sensitivity (anxiety) and emotional intelligence. Significant age effects were found for measures of abstract reasoning, response inhibition, and attentional set shifting. Levels of social anxiety increased moderately with age, although not significantly at this sample size. Abstract reasoning skills correlated positively with levels of social anxiety but not emotional intelligence. The pattern of results suggests differential developmental trajectories across various cognitive and emotional domains of frontal lobe functioning in childhood and adolescence. Increased abstract reasoning ability may be associated with increased vulnerability to social anxiety during this period.