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The trajectory of hemispheric lateralization in the core system of face processing: A cross-sectional functional magnetic resonance imaging pilot study

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Hildesheim, F. E., Debus, I., Kessler, R., Thome, I., Zimmermann, K. M., Steinsträter, O., et al. (2020). The trajectory of hemispheric lateralization in the core system of face processing: A cross-sectional functional magnetic resonance imaging pilot study. Frontiers in Psychology, 11: 507199. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2020.507199.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000B-9B02-4
Face processing is mediated by a distributed neural network commonly divided into a “core system” and an “extended system.” The core system consists of several, typically right-lateralized brain regions in the occipito-temporal cortex, including the occipital face area (OFA), the fusiform face area (FFA) and the posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS). It was recently proposed that the face processing network is initially bilateral and becomes right-specialized in the course of the development of reading abilities due to the competition between language-related regions in the left occipito-temporal cortex (e.g., the visual word form area, VWFA) and the FFA for common neural resources. In the present pilot study, we assessed the neural face processing network in 12 children (aged 7–9 years) and 10 adults with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The hemispheric lateralization of the core face regions was compared between both groups. The study had two goals: First, we aimed to establish an fMRI paradigm suitable for assessing activation in the core system of face processing in young children at the single subject level. Second, we planned to collect data for a power analysis to calculate the necessary group size for a large-scale cross-sectional imaging study assessing the ontogenetic development of the lateralization of the face processing network, with focus on the FFA. It was possible to detect brain activity in the core system of 75% of children at the single subject level. The average scan-to-scan motion of the included children was comparable to adults, ruling out that potential activation differences between groups are caused by unequal motion artifacts. Hemispheric lateralization of the FFA was 0.07 ± 0.48 in children (indicating bilateral activation) and −0.32 ± 0.52 in adults (indicating right-hemispheric dominance). These results thus showed, as expected, a trend for increased lateralization in adults. The estimated effect size for the FFA lateralization difference was d = 0.78 (indicating medium to large effects). An adequately powered follow-up study (sensitivity 0.8) testing developmental changes of FFA lateralization would therefore require the inclusion of 18 children and 26 adults.