Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Despite our differences, there is much about the natural visual world that most observers perceive in common. Across adults, approximately 30% of the brain is activated in a consistent fashion while viewing naturalistic input. At what stage of development is this consistency of neural profile across individuals present? Here, we focused specifically on whether this mature profile is present in adolescence, a key developmental period that bridges childhood and adulthood, and in which new cognitive and social challenges are at play. We acquired fMRI data evoked by a movie shown twice to younger (9–14 years old) and older adolescents (15–19 years old) and to adults, and conducted three key analyses. First, we characterized the consistency of the neural response within individuals (across separate runs of the movie), then within individuals of the same age group, and, last, between age groups. The neural consistency within individuals was similar across age groups with reliable activation in largely overlapping but slightly different cortical regions. In contrast, somewhat differing regions exhibited higher within-age correlations in both groups of adolescents than in the adults. Last, across the whole cortex, we identified regions evincing different patterns of maturation across age. Together, these findings provide a fine-grained characterization of functional neural development in adolescence and uncover signatures of widespread change in cortical coherence that supports the emerging mature stereotypical responses to naturalistic stimuli. These results also offer a more nuanced account of development that obeys neither a rigid linear progression nor a large qualitative change over time.