Weak proactive cognitive/motor brain control accounts for poor children's behavioral performance in speeded discrimination tasks

F. Quinzi*, R. L. Perri, M. Berchicci, V. Bianco, S. Pitzalis, Fabrizio Zeri, F. Di Russo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Motor and inhibitory control rely on frontal cortex activity, which is known to reach full maturation only in late adolescence. The development of inhibitory control has been studied using event-related potentials (ERP), focusing on reactive processing (i.e. the N2 and the P3 components). Scarce information exists concerning pre-stimulus activity as that represented by the Bereinshafstpotential (BP) and by the prefrontal negativity (pN). Further, no literature exists concerning the post-stimulus components originating within the anterior insula (pN1, pP1, pP2). This study aims at associating children performance with these motor-cognitive processing in frontal brain areas. Methods: High-resolution EEG recordings were employed to measure ERPs from 18 children (12 years old) and 18 adults (28 years old) during a visuo-motor discriminative response task. Response time (RT), commission (CE) and omission errors, and RT variability were compared between groups. At brain level, two pre-stimulus (BP and pN) and seven post-stimulus (P1; pN1; N1; pP1; N2; pP2; P3) ERP components were compared between groups. Results: Children showed slower and more variable RTs and poorer inhibition (higher CEs) than adults. At electrophysiological level, children presented smaller BP and pN. After stimulus onset, children showed lower amplitude of N1, pP1, P3, and pP2 components. The P1, pP1, N2 and P3 were delayed compared to adults. Conclusions: Our results demonstrate that children are characterized by less intense task-related proactive activities in frontal cortex, which may account for subsequent poor and delayed reactive processing and, thus, for inaccurate and slow performance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)211-222
JournalBiological Psychology
Early online date18 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2018

Bibliographical note

© 2018, Elsevier. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/


  • Anterior insular cortex
  • Cognitive control
  • EEG
  • ERPs
  • proactive inhibitory control


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