Response inhibition is an attention function which develops relatively early during childhood. Behavioral data suggest that by the age of 3, children master the basic task requirements for the assessment of response inhibition but performance improves substantially until the age of 7. The neuronal mechanisms underlying these developmental processes, however, are not well understood. In this study, we examined brain activation patterns and behavioral performance of children aged between 4 and 6 years compared to adults by applying a go/no-go paradigm during near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) brain imaging. We furthermore applied taskindependent functional connectivity measures to the imaging data to identify maturation of intrinsic neural functional networks. We found a significant group × condition related interaction in terms of inhibition-related reduced right fronto–parietal activation in children compared to adults. In contrast, motor-related activation did not differ between age groups. Functional connectivity analysis revealed that in the children’s group, short-range coherence within frontal areas was stronger, and long-range coherence between frontal and parietal areas was weaker, compared to adults. Our findings show that in children aged from 4 to 6 years fronto–parietal brain maturation plays a crucial part in the cognitive development of response inhibition.
Keywords: Optical tomography, NIRS, Response inhibition, Functional connectivity, Development, Early childhood.