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Doctoral Training in developmental cognitive Neuroscience within a European Context

Final Activity Report Summary - CBCD (Doctoral training in developmental cognitive neuroscience within a European context)

The 'Doctoral training in developmental cognitive neuroscience within a European context' (CBCD) project has provided research training in developmental cognitive neuroscience built on three founding principles:
- A multi-method and multidisciplinary approach combining: (i) behavioural assessment methods that allow us to measure the level of function of cognitive skills, (ii) neuroimaging methods (ERP and NIRS) that allows the localisation both spatially and temporally the activation of functionally related brain regions, (iii) computational modelling that allows the exploration of how interactions of different functional brain regions can explain the observed behaviours, and (iv) genetic analyses of individual variation in task performance and developmental disorders.
- A developmental approach in which typical and atypical developmental paths in infancy and childhood relative to cognitive functions in the adult brain.
- A focus on typical and atypical brain function in which developmental trajectories in infancy and childhood are contrasted with those in children with developmental disorders, as well as dysfunctions in adults caused by brain lesions.

6 PhD students were recruited and trained, whose research projects met these objectives. Specifically, their projects focussed on:
(1) understanding the neural and computational basis of early language and concept acquisition. The second year of life sees an explosion in both the acquisition of novel concepts and novel worlds. Using fine-grained eye-tracking technology and neural computational models we asked how the acquisition of new words impacts on the neural organisation of concepts in early development.
(2) understanding how the natural affordances that objects offer up for actions (e.g. long thin objects afford grasping) and our understanding of the possible functions of objects combine to constrain how we represent and interact with those objects throughout life. Here, we used behavioural and fine-grained eye-tracking technology to assess difference in the way infants, children and adults spontaneously engage with natural and man-made objects of varying degrees of familiarity.
(3) understanding the neural basis of object representations in the developing brain. The brain seems to process visual object identity information separately from information related to action. We used behavioural and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) brain scanning methods to track the emerging specialisation of the neural systems related to action on objects across childhood.
(4) understanding the neural basis of face recognition in the developing brain. In concert with project (3) above, we used behavioural and fMRI brain scanning methods to track the emerging specialisation of the neural systems related to face recognition across childhood.
(5) understanding the eye-gaze movements of others in bootstrapping early emotional development and attachment. Faces play an exceptionally important role on attachment in parent child interactions. Thus, we used eye-tracking and ERP (event related potential) electrophysiological methods to probe how the eye-gaze of others could act as the initial impetus to face recognition, emotion detection and attachment in newborns and very young infants.
(6) understanding how parallel neural systems interact throughout the life. Face recognition shifts from an aphyllogenetically older subcortical control system to a more volitional cortical system over the first year of life. We used behavioural and ERP methods, to explore how the more basic subcortical system continues to function well into adulthood.

Finally, specialised technical training courses were organised, drawing on the expertise of top international experts. The courses provided fellows with necessary skills in Matlab Programming, Neural network modelling, ERPs, fMRI, near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), the genetics of development, eye-tracking methods, and advanced statistical methods for studying development.