Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience
The objective of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience is to understand the mutual interaction between neural and cognitive development. One particular focus is to uncover the “mechanisms of change” and how neuroplasticity and therefore learning changes across the life span. From a basic science perspective the idea to study neuro-cognitive development and the its experience-dependence is motivated by the idea that a combined observation of neural and cognitive changes during ontogeny will contribute to a better understanding of the complex brain-behaviour relation in the adult system. Therefore, Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience comprises research from Experimental Psychology, Developmental Psychology and Neuroscience.
„Sensitive periods in human neuro-cognitive development“
Investigating people who were born blind due to bilateral dense cataracts and whose sight was restored later in life provides a rare opportunity to study sensitive phase in human brain development. Sensitive periods in development are epochs during which the effects of experience on the brain are particularly strong. After the end of the sensitive period neural circuits organize only incomplete resulting in permanent behavioral deficits. People with a history of transient congenital cataracts often have a lower visual acuity. However, some higher visual functions are more impaired than predicted from deficits in low level vision. For example, we showed that recognizing faces might be permanently impaired in cataract-reversal individuals due to a lack of a functional tuning of related neural circuits. Thus, this hallmark of development mediated by selective synaptic pruning and the implementation of inhibitory circuits might be related to a sensitive phase. By contrast, full recovery was observed for other visual systems such as for processing biological motion. Finally, multisensory functions, for example the integration of visual and auditory cues of the same event, was found to be impaired in cataract-reversal individuals. Brainimaging results suggested that prevailing crossmodal plasticity might contribute to this deficit. Comparing neuroplasticity in individuals with a permanent or transient congenital vs. late blindness as well as testing for multisensory learning in healthy adults reveals differences between developmental and adult plasticity.
Brigitte Röder is full professor of Biological Psychology and Neuropsychology at the University of Hamburg, Germany. Her main research interests include multisensory interactions and age-dependent neuroplasticity in humans. Her lab uses behavioral, electrophysiological and brainimaging methods to study the functional principles of multisensory interactions and the development of (multi)sensory functions. In particular her lab is interested in neural mechanisms of sensitive periods in neuro-cognitive development. This issue is addressed in humans with innate or acquired sensory deficits. Brigitte Röder is member of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and the Academy of Sciences in Hamburg. She has been awarded the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz price of the German Research Foundation (DFG) and an ERC Advanced investigator grant.
Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience: Where Experimental Psychology, Developmental Psychology and Neuroscience Meet
Chairs: Erich Schröger (Leipzig), Brigitte Röder (Hamburg)