Age-associated increase in mnemonic strategy use is linked to prefrontal cortex development
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Memory functioning undergoes dynamic changes between childhood and adulthood. Spontaneous use of elaborative strategies, which can enhance the recall of information, expands with age and contributes to age-associated improvement in memory functioning. Findings from lesion and neuroimaging studies suggest that the ability to use elaborative strategies is dependent upon intact functioning of the prefrontal cortex (PFC), particularly the dorsolateral PFC region. Because the PFC undergoes protracted maturation, we examined whether age difference in the structure of the PFC is correlated with age-associated increase in strategy use. Here, we investigated the relationship between PFC volume and spontaneous strategy use in a sample of 120 participants aged 5-25 years. We assessed semantic clustering during recall with a standardized word-list recall task (California Verbal Learning Task children's version, CVLT-C) and computed PFC regional volumes from participants' structural brain images. We observed an age-associated increase in the use of semantic clustering and an age-associated decrease in volumes of the PFC. Further, we found that smaller PFC volume was linked to increased use of semantic clustering. Importantly, the volume of the right dorsolateral PFC partially explained the relation between age and the use of semantic clustering. These findings suggest that PFC maturation supports the development of strategy use and lends further support for the notion that brain-behavior relations change across development.
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