Categorization is a basic means of organizing the world around us and offers a simple way to process the mass of stimuli one perceives every day. The ability to categorize appears early in infancy, and has important ramifications for the acquisition of other cognitive capacities, but little is known of its development during childhood. We studied 48 children (7-15 years of age) and 14 adults using an animal/nonanimal visual categorization task while event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded. Three components were measured: P1, N2, and P3. Behaviorally, the children performed the task very similarly to adults, although the children took longer to make categorization responses. Decreases in latencies (N2, P3) and amplitudes (P1, N2, P3) with age indicated that categorization processes continue to develop through childhood. P1 latency did not differ between the age groups. N2 latency, which is associated with stimulus categorization, reached adult levels at 9 years and P3 latency at 11 years of age. Age-related amplitude decreases started after the maturational changes in latencies were finished.
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