Spatial and Temporal Cortical Variability Track with Age and Affective Experience During Emotion Regulation in Youth
Variability is a fundamental feature of human brain activity that is particularly pronounced during development. However, developmental neuroimaging research has only recently begun to move beyond characterizing brain function across development exclusively in terms of magnitude of neural activation to incorporating estimates of variability. No prior neuroimaging study has done so in the domain of emotion regulation. We investigated how age and affective experiences influence spatial and temporal variability in neural activity during emotion regulation. In the current study, 70 typically developing youth aged 8-17 years completed a cognitive reappraisal task of emotion regulation while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. Estimates of spatial and temporal variability during emotion regulation were calculated across a network of brain regions, defined a priori, and were then related to age and affective experiences. Results showed that increasing age was associated with reduced spatial and temporal variability in a set of frontoparietal regions (e.g., dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, superior parietal lobule) known to be involved in effortful emotion regulation. In addition, youth who reported less negative affect during emotion regulation had less spatial variability in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex. We interpret age-related reductions in spatial and temporal variability as evidence of neural specialization. These results imply that the development of emotion regulation is undergirded by a process of neural specialization and open up a host of possibilities for incorporating neural variability into the study of emotion regulation development.