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Working memory function changes across development and varies across individuals. The patterns of behavior and brain function that track individual differences in working memory during development, however, are not well understood. Here we establish associations between working memory, cognitive abilities, and functional MRI activation in data from over 4,000 9−10-year-olds enrolled in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study, an ongoing longitudinal study in the United States. Behavioral analyses reveal robust relationships between working memory, short-term memory, language skills, and fluid intelligence. Analyses relating out-of-scanner working memory performance to memory-related fMRI activation in an emotional n-back task demonstrate that frontoparietal activity in response to an explicit memory challenge indexes working memory ability. Furthermore, this relationship is domain-specific, such that fMRI activation related to emotion processing during the emotional n -back task, inhibitory control during a stop-signal task, and reward processing during a monetary incentive delay task does not track memory abilities. Together these results inform our understanding of the emergence of individual differences in working memory and lay the groundwork for characterizing the ways in which they change across adolescence.

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