Substantial brain development occurs during adolescence providing the foundation for functional advancement from stimulus-bound “bottom-up” to more mature executive-driven “top-down” processing strategies. The objective was to assess development of EEG markers of these strategies and their role in both preparatory attention (contingent negative variation, CNV) and response monitoring (Error Related Negativity, ERN, and Correct Related Negativity, CRN).
CNV, ERN and CRN were assessed in 38 adolescents (18 girls), age 11–18 years, using a variation of a letter discrimination task.
Accuracy increased with age and developmental stage. Younger adolescents used a posterior attention network involved in inhibiting irrelevant information. Activity in this juvenile network, as indexed by a posteriorly-biased CNV and CRN decreased with age and advancing pubertal development. Although enhanced frontal CNV, known to be predictive of accuracy in adults, was not detected even in the older adolescents, top-down medial frontal response monitoring processes (ERN) showed evidence of development within the age-range studied.
The data revealed a dissociation of developmental progress, marked by relatively delayed onset of frontal preparatory attention relative to error monitoring.
This dissociation may render adolescents vulnerable to excessive risk-taking and disinhibited behavior imposed by asynchronous development of component cognitive control processes.