Preschool (age 3–5) is a phase of rapid development in both cognition and emotion, making this a period in which the neurodevelopment of each domain is particularly sensitive to that of the other. During this period, children rapidly learn how to flexibly shift their attention between competing demands and, at the same time, acquire critical emotion regulation skills to respond to negative affective challenges. The integration of cognitive flexibility and individual differences in irritability may be an important developmental process of early childhood maturation. However, at present it is unclear if they share common neural substrates in early childhood. Our main goal was to examine the neural correlates of cognitive flexibility in preschool children and test for associations with irritability. Forty-six preschool aged children completed a novel, child-appropriate, Stroop task while dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) activation was recorded using functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS). Parents rated their child's irritability. Results indicated that left DLPFC activation was associated with cognitive flexibility and positively correlated with irritability. Right DLPFC activation was also positively correlated with irritability. Results suggest the entwined nature of cognitive and emotional neurodevelopment during a developmental period of rapid and mutual acceleration.
- Cognitive flexibility
- Early childhood