Frontolimbic neural circuitry at 6 months predicts individual differences in joint attention at 9 months
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Elucidating the neural basis of joint attention in infancy promises to yield important insights into the development of language and social cognition, and directly informs developmental models of autism. We describe a new method for evaluating responding to joint attention performance in infancy that highlights the 9- to 10-month period as a time interval of maximal individual differences. We then demonstrate that fractional anisotropy in the right uncinate fasciculus, a white matter fiber bundle connecting the amygdala to the ventral-medial prefrontal cortex and anterior temporal pole, measured in 6-month-olds predicts individual differences in responding to joint attention at 9 months of age. The white matter microstructure of the right uncinate was not related to receptive language ability at 9 months. These findings suggest that the development of core nonverbal social communication skills in infancy is largely supported by preceding developments within right lateralized frontotemporal brain systems.
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