Brain networks underlying attention are present even during infancy and are critical for the developing ability of children to control their emotions and thoughts. For adults, individual differences in the efficiency of attentional networks have been related to neuromodulators and to genetic variations. We have examined the development of attentional networks and child temperament in a longitudinal study from infancy (7 months) to middle childhood (7 years). Early temperamental differences among infants, including smiling and laughter and vocal reactivity, are related to self-regulation abilities at 7 years. However, genetic variations related to adult executive attention, while present in childhood, are poor predictors of later control, in part because individual genetic variationmay have many small effects and in part because their influence occurs in interaction with caregiver behavior and other environmental influences. While brain areas involved in attention are present during infancy, their connectivity changes and leads to improvement in control of behavior. It is also possible to influence control mechanisms through training later in life. The relation between maturation and learning may allow advances in our understanding of human brain development.
Training can induce changes in specific brain networks and changes in brain state. In both cases it has been found that the efficiency of white matter as measured by diffusion tensor imaging is increased, often after only a few hours of training. In this paper we consider a plausible molecular mechanism for how state change produced by meditation might lead to white matter change. According to this hypothesis frontal theta induced by meditation produces a molecular cascade that increases myelin and improves connectivity.
theta rhythm; myelination; diffusion tensor imaging; meditation; fractional anisotropy (FA)
The use of meditation to improve emotion and attention regulation has a long history in Asia and there are many practitioners in Western countries. Much of the evidence on the effectiveness of meditation is either anecdotal or a comparison of long-term meditators with controls matched in age and health. Recently, it has been possible to establish changes in self-regulation in undergraduate students after only 5 days of meditation practice, allowing randomized trials comparing effects of meditation with other self-control methods such as relaxation training. Early studies took place in Chinese universities; however, similar effects have been obtained with U.S. undergraduates, and with Chinese children aged 4.5 years and older Chinese participants aged 65 years. Studies using neuroimaging techniques have shown that meditation improves activation and connectivity in brain areas related to self-regulation, and these findings may provide an opportunity to examine remediation of mental disorders in a new light.
meditation; IBMT; self-regulation; life span
The dopamine receptor D4 gene (DRD4) 7-repeat allele has been found to interact with environmental factors such as parenting in children and peer attitudes in adults to influence aspects of behavior such as risk taking. We previously found that in toddlers, lower-quality parenting in combination with the 7-repeat allele of the DRD4 gene was associated with greater parent-reported Sensation Seeking (SS), but was unrelated to Effortful Control (EC). We now report findings from a followup assessment with the same sample of children showing that parenting quality interacts with the presence of the 7-repeat allele to predict EC in 3-to 4-year-old children. The change in these patterns of results may reflect the increased role of the executive attention network in older children and adults. However, due to the small sample size (N = 52) and the novelty of the results, these findings should be treated with caution and considered preliminary until they are replicated in an independent sample.
Studies using fMRI at rest and during task performance have revealed a set of brain areas and their connections that can be linked to the ability of children to regulate their thoughts, actions and emotions. Higher self-regulation has also been related favorable outcomes in adulthood. These findings have set the occasion for methods of improving self-regulation via training. A tool kit of such methods is now available. It remains to be seen if educators will use these new findings and tools to forge practical methods for improving the lives of the world's children.
Alerting network; Brain connectivity; Executive network; Orienting network; Self regulation
Hebb and Vygotsky are two of the most influential figures of psychology in the first half of the 20th century. They represent cultural and biological approaches to explaining human development, and thus a number of their ideas remain relevant to current psychology and cognitive neuroscience. In this paper we examine similarities and differences between these two important figures, exploring possibilities for a theoretical synthesis between their two literatures, which have had little contact each other. To pursue these goals the following topics are discussed: 1) Hebb and Vygotsky’s lives and training; 2) their innovations in theory building relating to an “objective psychology” and objective science of mind, 3) their developmental approach, 4) their treatment of mediation and neuropsychology and 5) their current relevance and possible integration of their views. We argue that considering the two together improves prospects for a more complete and integrated approach to mind and brain in society.
Development; Hebb; Cell-assembly; Integrated science of mind; Luria; Mediation; Mind and mental activity; Neuropsychology; Vygotsky
One form of meditation intervention, the integrative body-mind training (IBMT) has been shown to improve attention, reduce stress and change self-reports of mood. In this paper we examine whether short-term IBMT can improve performance related to creativity and determine the role that mood may play in such improvement.
Forty Chinese undergraduates were randomly assigned to short-term IBMT group or a relaxation training (RT) control group. Mood and creativity performance were assessed by the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) and Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT) questionnaire respectively.
As predicted, the results indicated that short-term (30 min per day for 7 days) IBMT improved creativity performance on the divergent thinking task, and yielded better emotional regulation than RT. In addition, cross-lagged analysis indicated that both positive and negative affect may influence creativity in IBMT group (not RT group).
Our results suggested that emotion-related creativity-promoting mechanism may be attributed to short-term meditation.
Creativity; Emotion; Positive affect; Negative affect; Short-term meditation; Integrative body-mind training; Cross-lagged analysis
The term consciousness is an important one in the vernacular of the western literature in many fields. It is no wonder that scientists have assumed that consciousness will be found as a component of the human brain and that we will come to understand its neural basis. However, there is rather little in common between consciousness as the neurologist would use it to diagnose the vegetative state, how the feminist would use it to support raising male consciousness of the economic plight of women and as the philosopher would use it when defining the really hard question of the subjective state of awareness induced by sensory qualities. When faced with this kind of problem it is usual to subdivide the term into more manageable perhaps partly operational definitions. Three meanings that capture aspects of consciousness are: (1) the neurology of the state of mind allowing coherent orientation to time and place (2) the selection of sensory or memorial information for awareness and (3) the voluntary control over overt responses. In each of these cases the mechanisms of consciousness overlap with one or more of the attentional networks that have been studied with the methods of cognitive neuroscience. In this paper we explore the overlap and discuss how to exploit the growing knowledge of attentional networks to constrain ideas of consciousness.
attention networks; alerting; orienting; executive
Mindfulness neuroscience is an emerging research field that investigates the underlying mechanisms of different mindfulness practices, different stages and different states of practice as well as different effects of practice over the lifespan. Mindfulness neuroscience research integrates theory and methods from eastern contemplative traditions, western psychology and neuroscience, and from neuroimaging techniques, physiological measures and behavioral tests. We here review several key theoretical and methodological challenges in the empirical study of mindfulness neuroscience and provide suggestions for overcoming these challenges.
mindfulness neuroscience; mindfulness; meditation; neuroplasticity; gene-environment interaction
Attention influences many aspects of cognitive development. Variations in the COMT gene, known to affect dopamine neurotransmission, have frequently been found to influence attention in adults and older children. In this paper we examined 2 year old children and found that variation in the COMT gene influenced attention in a task involving looking to a sequence of visual stimuli. Because the influence of another dopamine related gene (DRD4) has been shown to interact with parenting quality at this age, we explored parenting in relation to variations in the COMT gene. Variations in COMT interacted with parenting quality to influence our attention measure. The Val108/158Met polymorphism of COMT is commonly used to determine allelic groups, but recently haplotypes of several polymorphisms within this gene have been shown to do a better job in reflecting perceived pain. Since attention and pain both involve the activation of the anterior cingulate gyrus in imaging studies, we compared the Val108/158Met influence with the COMT haplotypes and found the latter to be more predictive of attention. Our results confirm that important aspects of cognitive development including attention depend on the interaction of genes and early environment.
The concept of self-regulation is central to the understanding of human development. Self-regulation allows effective socialization and predicts both psychological pathologies and levels of achievement in schools. What has been missing are neural mechanisms to provide understanding of the cellular and molecular basis for self-regulation. We show that self-regulation can be measured during childhood by parental reports and by self-reports of adolescents and adults. These reports are summarized by a higher order factor called effortful control, which reflects perceptions about the ability of a given person to regulate their behavior in accord with cultural norms. Throughout childhood effortful control is related to children’s performance in computerized conflict related tasks. Conflict tasks have been shown in neuroimaging studies to activate specific brain networks of executive attention. Several brain areas work together at rest and during cognitive tasks to regulate competing brain activity and thus control resulting behavior. The cellular structure of the anterior cingulate and insula contain cells, unique to humans and higher primates that provide strong links to remote brain areas. During conflict tasks, anterior cingulate activity is correlated with activity in remote sensory and emotional systems, depending upon the information selected for the task. During adolescence the structure and activity of the anterior cingulate has been found to be correlated with self-reports of effortful control.
Studies have provided a perspective on how genes and environment act to shape the executive attention network, providing a physical basis for self-regulation. The anterior cingulate is regulated by dopamine. Genes that influence dopamine levels in the CNS have been shown to influence the efficiency of self-regulation. For example, alleles of the COMT gene that influence the efficiency of dopamine transmission are related to the ability to resolve conflict. Humans with disorders involving deletion of this gene exhibit large deficits in self-regulation. Alleles of other genes influencing dopamine and serotonin transmission have also been found to influence ability to resolve conflict in cognitive tasks. However, as is the case for many genes, the effectiveness of COMT alleles in shaping self-regulation depends upon cultural influences such as parenting. Studies find that aspects of parenting quality and parent training can influence child behavior and the efficiency of self-regulation.
During development, the network that relates to self-regulation undergoes important changes in connectivity. Infants can use parts of the self-regulatory network to detect errors in sensory information, but the network does not yet have sufficient connectivity to organize brain activity in a coherent way. During middle childhood, along with increased projection cells involved in remote connections of dorsal anterior cingulate and prefrontal and parietal cortex, executive network connectivity increases and shifts from predominantly short to longer range connections. During this period specific exercises can influence network development and improve self-regulation. Understanding the physical basis of self-regulation has already cast light on individual differences in normal and pathological states and gives promise of allowing the design of methods to improve aspects of human development.
Attention; genetic alleles; neural networks; self-regulation
The study of attention has largely been about how to select among the various sensory events but also involves the selection among conflicting actions. Prior to the late 1980s, locating bottlenecks between sensory input and response dominated these studies, a different view was that attentional limits involved the importance of maintaining behavioral coherence rather than resulting from a bottleneck. In both cases ideas of resource limits taken over from economics were important. Early evidence relating to the anatomy of attention came from neurological investigations of lesioned patients, but the major impetus for the anatomical approach came from neuroimaging studies that provided evidence of brain networks related to orienting to sensory events and control of response tendencies. The presence of a functional anatomy has supported studies of the development of attention networks and the role of neuromodulators and genetic poymorphisms in their construction. Together these developments have enhanced our understanding of attention and paved the way for significant applications to education, pathology and prevention of mental illness.
Although the study of brain states is an old one in neuroscience, there has been growing interest in brain state specification owing to MRI studies tracing brain connectivity at rest. In this review, we summarize recent research on three relatively well-described brain states: the resting, alert, and meditation states. We explore the neural correlates of maintaining a state or switching between states, and argue that the anterior cingulate cortex and striatum play a critical role in state maintenance, whereas the insula has a major role in switching between states. Brain state may serve as a predictor of performance in a variety of perceptual, memory, and problem solving tasks. Thus, understanding brain states is critical for understanding human performance.
In adults most cognitive and emotional self-regulation is carried out by a network of brain regions, including the anterior cingulate, insula and areas of the basal ganglia, related to executive attention. We propose that during infancy control systems depend primarily upon a brain network involved in orienting to sensory events that includes areas of the parietal lobe and frontal eye fields. Studies of human adults and alert monkeys show that the brain network involved in orienting to sensory events is moderated primarily by the nicotinic cholinergic system arising in the nucleus basalis. The executive attention network is primarily moderated by dopaminergic input from the ventral tegmental area. A change from cholinergic to dopaminergic modulation would be a consequence of this switch of control networks and may be important in understanding early development. We trace the attentional, emotional and behavioral changes in early development related to this developmental change in regulative networks and their modulators.
Here, we update our 1990 Annual Review of Neuroscience article, “The Attention System of the Human Brain.” The framework presented in the original article has helped to integrate behavioral, systems, cellular, and molecular approaches to common problems in attention research. Our framework has been both elaborated and expanded in subsequent years. Research on orienting and executive functions has supported the addition of new networks of brain regions. Developmental studies have shown important changes in control systems between infancy and childhood. In some cases, evidence has supported the role of specific genetic variations, often in conjunction with experience, that account for some of the individual differences in the efficiency of attentional networks. The findings have led to increased understanding of aspects of pathology and to some new interventions.
alerting network; executive network; orienting network; cingulo-opercular network; frontoparietal network
Although the study of brain development in non-human animals is an old one, recent imaging methods have allowed non-invasive studies of the gray and white matter of the human brain over the lifespan. Classic animal studies show clearly that impoverished environments reduce cortical gray matter in relation to complex environments and cognitive and imaging studies in humans suggest which networks may be most influenced by poverty. Studies have been clear in showing the plasticity of many brain systems, but whether sensitivity to learning differs over the lifespan and for which networks is still unclear. A major task for current research is a successful integration of these methods to understand how development and learning shape the neural networks underlying achievements in literacy, numeracy, and attention. This paper seeks to foster further integration by reviewing the current state of knowledge relating brain changes to behavior and indicating possible future directions.
childhood poverty; brain networks; plasticity; attention; literacy; numeracy
Children show increasing control of emotions and behavior during their early years. Our studies suggest a shift in control from the brain's orienting network in infancy to the executive network by the age of 3–4 years. Our longitudinal study indicates that orienting influences both positive and negative affect, as measured by parent report in infancy. At 3–4 years of age, the dominant control of affect rests in a frontal brain network that involves the anterior cingulate gyrus. Connectivity of brain structures also changes from infancy to toddlerhood. Early connectivity of parietal and frontal areas is important in orienting; later connectivity involves midfrontal and anterior cingulate areas related to executive attention and self-regulation.
attention; connectivity; development; orienting
Research in cognitive neuroscience now considers the state of the brain prior to the task an important aspect of performance. Hypnosis seems to alter the brain state in a way which allows external input to dominate over internal goals. We examine how normal development may illuminate the hypnotic state.
Mental chronometry, which has origins dating back over a century, seeks to measure the time course of mental operations in the human nervous system
One current conceptualization of attention subdivides it into functions of alerting, orienting, and executive control. Alerting describes the function of tonically maintaining the alert state and phasically responding to a warning signal. Automatic and voluntary orienting are involved in the selection of information among multiple sensory inputs. Executive control describes a set of more complex operations that includes monitoring and resolving conflicts in order to control thoughts or behaviors. Converging evidence supports this theory of attention by showing that each function appears to be subserved by anatomically distinct networks in the brain and differentially innervated by various neuromodulatory systems. Although much research has been dedicated to understanding the functional separation of these networks in both healthy and disease states, the interaction and integration among these networks still remain unclear. In this study, we aimed to characterize possible behavioral interaction and integration in healthy adult volunteers using a revised attentional network test (ANT-R) with cue-target interval and cue validity manipulations. We found that whereas alerting improves overall response speed, it exerts negative influence on executive control under certain conditions. A valid orienting cue enhances but an invalid cue diminishes the ability of executive control to overcome conflict. The results support the hypothesis of functional integration and interaction of these brain networks.
attention; attentional networks; alerting; orienting; executive control
Tasks involving conflict are widely used to study executive attention. In the flanker task, a target stimulus is surrounded by distracting information that can be congruent or incongruent with the correct response. Developmental differences in the time course of brain activations involved in conflict processing were examined for 22 four year old children and 18 adults. Subjects performed a child-friendly flanker task while their brain activity was registered using a high-density electroencephalography system.
General differences were found in the amplitude and time course of event-related potentials (ERPs) between children and adults that are consistent with their differences in reaction time. In addition, the congruency of flankers affected both the amplitude and latency of some of the ERP components. These effects were delayed and sustained for longer periods of time in the children compared to the adults.
These differences constitute neural correlates of children's greater difficulty in monitoring and resolving conflict in this and similar tasks.