Sustained attention and prediction: distinct brain maturation trajectories during adolescence


Adolescence is a key period for frontal cortex maturation necessary for the development of cognitive ability. Sustained attention and prediction are cognitive functions critical for optimizing sensory processing, and essential to efficiently adapt behaviors in an ever-changing world. The aim of the current study was to investigate the brain developmental trajectories of attentive and predictive processing through adolescence. We recorded EEG in 36 participants from the age of 12–24 years (three age groups: 12–14, 14–17, 18–24 years) to target development during early and late adolescence, and early adulthood. We chose a visual target detection task which loaded upon sustained attention, and we manipulated target predictability. Continued maturation of sustained attention after age 12 was evidenced by improved performance (hits, false alarms (FAs) and sensitivity) in a detection task, associated with a frontal shift in the scalp topographies of the Contingent Negative Variation (CNV) and P3 responses, with increasing age. No effect of age was observed on predictive processing, with all ages showing similar benefits in reaction time, increases in P3 amplitude (indexing predictive value encoding and memorization), increases in CNV amplitude (corresponding to prediction implementation) and reduction in target-P3 latency (reflecting successful prediction building and use), with increased predictive content. This suggests that adolescents extracted and used predictive information to generate predictions as well as adults. The present results show that predictive and attentive processing follow distinct brain developmental trajectories: prediction abilities seem mature by the age of 12 and sustained attention continues to improve after 12-years of age and is associated with maturational changes in the frontal cortices.