Age-related differences in neural activation and functional connectivity during the processing of vocal prosody in adolescence

  • Michele MorningstarEmail author
  • Whitney I. Mattson
  • Joseph Venticinque
  • Stanley SingerJr
  • Bhavani Selvaraj
  • Houchun H. Hu
  • Eric E. Nelson


The ability to recognize others’ emotions based on vocal emotional prosody follows a protracted developmental trajectory during adolescence. However, little is known about the neural mechanisms supporting this maturation. The current study investigated age-related differences in neural activation during a vocal emotion recognition (ER) task. Listeners aged 8 to 19 years old completed the vocal ER task while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. The task of categorizing vocal emotional prosody elicited activation primarily in temporal and frontal areas. Age was associated with a) greater activation in regions in the superior, middle, and inferior frontal gyri, b) greater functional connectivity between the left precentral and inferior frontal gyri and regions in the bilateral insula and temporo-parietal junction, and c) greater fractional anisotropy in the superior longitudinal fasciculus, which connects frontal areas to posterior temporo-parietal regions. Many of these age-related differences in brain activation and connectivity were associated with better performance on the ER task. Increased activation in, and connectivity between, areas typically involved in language processing and social cognition may facilitate the development of vocal ER skills in adolescence.


Adolescence Emotional prosody Vocal Emotion recognition Functional connectivity Neural activation 



This work was supported by internal funds at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies [grant number 207776].

Compliance with ethical standards

Competing interests

The authors have no competing interests to declare.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional review board, and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Biobehavioral HealthNationwide Children’s HospitalColumbusUSA
  2. 2.Department of PediatricsThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  3. 3.Department of RadiologyNationwide Children’s HospitalColumbusUSA

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