EEG signatures of cognitive and social development of preschool children – a systematic review

Supriya Bhavnani, Georgia Lockwood Estrin, Rianne Haartsen, Sarah K. G. Jensen, Teodora Gliga, Vikram Patel, Mark H. Johnson

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21 Citations (Scopus)
39 Downloads (Pure)


Early identification of preschool children who are at risk of faltering in their development is essential to ensuring that all children attain their full potential. Electroencephalography (EEG) has been used to measure neural correlates of cognitive and social development in children for decades. Effective portable and low-cost EEG devices increase the potential of its use to assess neurodevelopment in children at scale and particularly in low-resource settings. We conducted a systematic review aimed to synthesise EEG measures of cognitive and social development in 2-5-year old children. Our secondary aim was to identify how these measures differ across a) the course of development within this age range, b) gender and c) socioeconomic status (SES).

Methods and findings:
A systematic literature search identified 51 studies for inclusion in this review. Data relevant to the primary and secondary aims was extracted from these studies and an assessment for risk of bias was done, which highlighted the need for harmonisation of EEG data collection and analysis methods across research groups and more detailed reporting of participant characteristics. Studies reported on the domains of executive function (n = 22 papers), selective auditory attention (n = 9), learning and memory (n = 5), processing of faces (n = 7) and emotional stimuli (n = 8). For papers investigating executive function and selective auditory attention, the most commonly reported measures were alpha power and the amplitude and latency of positive (P1, P2, P3) and negative (N1, N2) deflections of event related potential (ERPs) components. The N170 and P1 ERP components were the most commonly reported neural responses to face and emotional faces stimuli. A mid-latency negative component and positive slow wave were used to index learning and memory, and late positive potential in response to emotional non-face stimuli. While almost half the studies described changes in EEG measures across age, only eight studies disaggregated results based on gender, and six included children from low income households to assess the impact of SES on neurodevelopment. No studies were conducted in low- and middle-income countries.

This review has identified power across the EEG spectrum and ERP components to be the measures most commonly reported in studies in which preschool children engage in tasks indexing cognitive and social development. It has also highlighted the need for additional research into their changes across age and based on gender and SES.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0247223
JournalPLoS One
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 19 Feb 2021

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