9.S915 | Spring 2012 | Graduate

Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 3.5 hours / session (with a half hour break)


This course will ask how neuroscientific methods and discoveries have been, or could be, or should be, used to address fundamental theoretical issues concerning the development of cognition in human childhood. We will consider questions like the role of experience and of innate biological predisposition, the range of plasticity, and the functional specialization of domain specific mechanisms, in the development of cognition. Topic areas will include face perception, navigation, language, memory, number, object representations, and social and moral cognition. We will also examine the influence of the development of the domain general mechanisms of executive functions on conceptual development. Neuroscientific methods surveyed will include MRI, fMRI, EEG, MEG, NIRS, lesion studies and electrophysiology.


Open to graduate students in developmental psychology, cognitive science or cognitive neuroscience. Students will be required to give in-class presentations, write responses to weekly papers, and to write a final paper.

This course welcomes auditors, but they will be required to participate, including written and oral responses to the weekly readings.


This table outlines the topics covered in each session. After the first class, students will submit response papers based on the reading assigned for that topic. Three specific subtopics will be covered each week. For each of these topics, one participant will prepare a presentation.

The final class will have a different format. Each student’s response paper will be a proposal for how neuroscience could contribute to our understanding of these kinds of learning. There will be no preassigned presenters, but we will call on people to present/discuss their proposal, so everyone should be ready to talk about their idea. In the second half of class, we will then reflect on the general lessons we have learned about the role of cognitive neuroscience in understanding development.

1 Introduction & assignment of presentations for first 6 weeks
2 Geometry and navigation—a candidate innate representation
3 Faces—another candidate innate representation
4 Activity-dependent and experience-dependent change
5 Faces 2—experience hones representations
6 Words & reading—cultural experience creates new representations
7 What is innate about language
8 Learning as declarative memory
9 Learning as exploration
10 Executive function
11 How executive function development affects other cognitive functions
12 Conceptual change