Theta oscillations in 4-year-olds are sensitive to task engagement and task demands.
Meyer M., Endedijk HM., van Ede F., Hunnius S.
Top-down control processes are essential for guiding attention and working memory towards task-relevant information. Recently, theta oscillations were suggested as critical for these cognitive processes. Infant studies testing a mixture of bottom-up and top-down processes support adult theta findings. Yet, since infants cannot be instructed, it remains unclear to what extent theta oscillations are involved particularly in top-down control in early childhood. That is especially relevant towards school age when children need top-down control to solve the increasingly complex tasks. In this EEG study, we investigated whether theta-power in 4-year-olds is sensitive to task engagement and to different cognitive task demands. In a within-subjects design, children had three different instructions before watching videos including either no demands (No Task), language-related (Color-naming Task), or action-related (Imitation Task) demands. We analyzed children's theta-power (3-6 Hz) in two contrasts: (1) Task vs. No Task and (2) Color-naming vs. Imitation Task. The findings revealed more frontomedial theta-power when children were engaged in a task and their frontomedial theta-power increased during their cognitive engagement. Theta-power was stronger over left fronto-temporal sites for language- compared to action-related demands. These findings support recent theoretical work highlighting theta oscillations in top-down control and extend this neurocognitive framework to preschoolers.