Scheme: Wolfson Research Merit Awards
Organisation: Birkbeck College, University of London
Dates: Dec 2011-Nov 2016
Summary: My research area can be broadly described as Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. That is, my aim is to try to understand the links that exist between brain development across infancy and childhood and infants’ and children’s emerging abilities to understand and reason about the world. To achieve this aim, my research involves combining carefully controlled behavioural studies reflecting the best of psychological science methods, neuroimaging highlighting the neural correlates of cognition in children and infants, and computer simulations to bridge between neural patterns observed in the brain and the behaviours observed in children.
The specific project I am working on involves exploring the neural basis of key concepts in the scientific understanding of the world. Science is at the very heart of our modern society. It is about more than just developing new technologies that enable us to go beyond our current limitations. Science is also a way to approach the complex world we live in. It suggests ways to investigate that world through experimentation and to make sense of that world though the creation of explanatory theories. The senses of time – that events unfold through time- and of causality – that some events are responsible for making other events occur – are fundamental to the scientific enquiry. The current project will ask how these two fundamental cognitive skills develop in early infancy and childhood, and how they are shaped by the child’s developing brain and motor activity. To do so, we will combine computer simulations of learning in the brain using artificial neural networks, neuroimaging such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify how the relevant functional systems change with age, and behavioural experiments and tests to assess subtle changes in children’s reasoning abilities.
This will contribute to our understanding the emergence of scientific reasoning and has the potential to shape the way we deliver science education.