Developmental studies have identified differences in prefrontal and subcortical affective structures between children and adults, which correspond with observed cognitive and behavioral maturations from relatively simplistic emotional experiences and expressions to more nuanced, complex ones. However, developmental changes in the neural representation of emotions have not yet been well explored. It stands to reason that adults and children may demonstrate observable differences in the representation of affect within key neurological structures implicated in affective cognition. Forty-five participants (25 children and 20 adults) passively viewed positive, negative and neutral clips from popular films while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. Using representational similarity analysis to measure variability in neural pattern similarity, we found developmental differences between children and adults in the amygdala, nucleus accumbens and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC): children generated less pattern similarity within subcortical structures relative to the vmPFC-a phenomenon not replicated among their older counterparts. Furthermore, children generated valence-specific differences in representational patterns across regions; these valence-specific patterns were not found in adults. These results may suggest that affective representations grow increasingly dissimilar over the course of development as individuals mature from visceral affective responses to more evaluative analyses.
- Representational similarity analysis
- Subcortical region
- Ventromedial prefrontal cortex