Although infants perform more poorly than adults on many cognitive tasks, they are more competent language learners. Newborns must have access to an exceptional processing system where bits of the -inherently transient- speech signal remain encoded to build knowledge of the language around them. Memory, the ability to hold information in mind that is no longer present in the environment, is one of the most important components of this machinery. As yet, however, what characterizes the first cognitive and neural architectures of memory and if (and to what extent) these mechanisms constraint human language remain largely unexplained. IN-MIND proposes a fresh perspective that particularly emphasizes the study of verbal long-term and working memories as a journey in its development during infancy. The project aims to provide new insights into: i) how memories are formed at birth and sometimes stored for longer periods through the reorganization of neuronal circuits, ii) how infants’ verbal memory capacities and limits vary as their brain evolves in the first months of life, iii) when verbal working memory capacities emerge and whether they account for concurrent and later language outcomes, and iv) to what extent memory measured in the laboratory relates to how language is implemented in the real world. I will address these issues using an innovative and multimodal approach that combines experiments with behavioral techniques, wearable neuroimaging, polysomnography, and naturalistic recording in newborns, typically developing infants and infants at-risk for language impairments. The outcomes of this research may lay the foundation for identifying vulnerabilities in verbal memory capacities as well as the temporal windows in which eventual interventions might be more effective. From a theoretical perspective, IN-MIND will inform debates regarding the origins of human language, by contributing to a more complete description of what makes an infant brain language-ready.
- HORIZON.1.1 - European Research Council (ERC) Main Programme