Eur J Neurosci 2006 Feb;23(3):801-10
Human Information Processing Laboratory, Department of Psychology, FIN-33014 University of Tampere, Finland.
Magnetoencephalography (MEG) was used to study the neural mechanisms underlying face and gaze processing in ten normally developing boys aged between 8 and 11 years and 12 adult males. The participants performed two tasks in which they had to decide whether images presented sequentially in pairs, depicted the same person or the same motorbike. In the first task, the participants saw pictures of faces in which the eyes were either open or shut and pictures of motorbikes. In the second task, participants saw pairs of faces with gaze averted to the left or right. In children there was no evidence of the face sensitive, low amplitude short latency (30-60 ms) activity seen previously in adults. A strong, midline posterior response at approximately 100 ms was observed in children, which was earlier and somewhat stronger to faces than to motorbikes; in adults the signal at this latency was weak. A clear face sensitive response was seen in adults at 135 ms, predominantly over the right inferior occipito-temporal regions. Although activity was observed in the children at the same latency, it was less prominent, not lateralized and was evoked similarly by faces and motorbikes. Averted gaze conditions evoked strong right-lateralized activity at approximately 245 ms in children only. These findings indicate that even in middle childhood the neural mechanisms underlying face processing are less specialized than in adults, with greater early activation of posterior occipital cortices and less specific activation of ventral occipito-temporal cortex.