Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience: Childhood (PSYL10135)

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Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience: Childhood (PSYL10135)

This course covers some specific topics in developmental cognitive neuroscience, focusing on childhood. The goals of the course are to: 

  1. Introduce important phenomena and mechanisms supporting neurocognitive development.
  2. Understand the mutual influence among the brain, cognition, and the environment in the dynamic context of development.
  3. Illustrate these mechanisms in various domains (e.g., perception, learning, memory) in the first part of the course, and study in more depth how they contribute to changes in one specific domain (cognitive control) in the second part of the course.
  4. Provide students with an introduction to some of the methods used within developmental cognitive neuroscience including basic experimentation, formal theory development, and neuroscientific methods. 

Through this course, students will practice and sharpen the following skills: critical analysis, information integration, structuring and presenting arguments, critical analysis, and writing skills. 

Lecture Information 

Lecture Dates Title Description
21 Sept Lecture 1.

Making friends with developmental cognitive neuroscience

What is developmental cognitive neuroscience? What methods do developmental cognitive neuroscientists use? After a general introduction to the course, this first lecture will address some of the main concepts, issues, and methods in the discipline.
28 Sept & 5 Oct Lectures 2-3.

Cognition and the developing brain

How does the brain develop and how does it affect the way children think? Do cognitive changes reciprocally influence the brain? Is early neural and cognitive immaturity an advantage or a disadvantage? These two lectures will cover how structural and functional neural changes influence cognitive development and vice-versa.
12 Oct Lecture 4.

Neurocognitive development in context

Do children from low and high socioeconomic backgrounds show the same developmental trajectory? How does early institutionalization influence later cognitive development? Is cognitive training effective in children? This lecture will address how environmental factors contribute to shape cognitive and brain developments and how children reciprocally influence their own environment.
19 Oct Lecture 5.

The learning child

How do children learn? Are they better or worse learners that adults? Is it best to teach children through instructions or let them explore? This lecture will address the multiple ways in which children learn and how they change with age.
2 Nov Lecture 6.

Memory during childhood

Why can’t we remember anything of our first few years of life? Is memory affected by sleep? This lecture will explore how the neurocognitive processes underpinning memory and how they change during childhood.
9, 16 & 23 Nov Lectures 7-8-9.

Regulating the mind

Young children seem “all over the place”, prone to tantrums and unable to deal with frustration. Why is that the case and how do they get better at self-regulating with age? These three lectures will address in more depth the cognitive and neural mechanisms that support increasingly efficient cognitive control of thoughts and actions during childhood.
30 Nov Lecture 10.

Developmental cognitive neuroscience in the classroom

How do children learn to read, write and use numbers? What are the brain bases of academic skills? Can developmental cognitive neuroscience shed light on formal school education? This last lecture will introduce the emerging topic of educational neuroscience.


08/10/2018 - 1:00pm
Learning Outcomes: 


 Demonstrate an understanding of recent scientific advances, debates, and challenges regarding brain and cognitive developments
 Analyze the developmental mechanisms driving cognitive and neural changes during childhood
 Demonstrate an understanding of how cognitive development and brain development are mutually supportive
 Analyze the role of experience and the environment in brain and cognitive developments




Recommended readings

**This tentative reading list will be updated throughout the semester**

DCN4: Johnson, M.H., & de Haan, M. (2015). Developmental cognitive neuroscience (4th edition). Oxford, UK: Wiley Blackwell.

CCD2: Goswami, U. (2010). Childhood cognitive development (2nd edition). Oxford, UK: Wiley Blackwell.


Lecture 1

  • CCD2-Chapter 28 (Neuroconstructivism)
  • DCN4-Chapters 1 (The biology of change) and 2 (Methods and populations)
  • Bjorklund, D. F., & Green, B. L. (1992). The adaptive nature of cognitive immaturity. American Psychologist, 47(1), 46-54.

Lectures 2-3:

  • Couperus, J. W., & Nelson, C. A. (2011). Early brain development and plasticity. In K. McCartney, K. & D. Phillips, Blackwell handbook of early child development, pp.85-105. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • DCN4-Chapters 3 (From gene to brain), 4 (Building a brain), and 13 (interactive specialization)
  • Gogtay, N., & Thompson, P. M. (2010). Mapping gray matter development: Implications for typical development and vulnerability to psychopathology. Brain & Cognition, 72, 6-15. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2009.08.009
  • Byrge, L., Sporns, O., & Smith, L. B. (2014). Developmental process emerges from extended brain-body-behavior networks. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 18(8), 395-403. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2014.04.010

Lecture 4:

  • Dearing, E., & Berry, D., & Zaslow, M. (2011). Poverty during early childhood. In K. McCartney, K. & D. Phillips, Blackwell handbook of early child development, pp.85-105. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Nelson, C. A. (2007). A neurobiological perspective on early human deprivation. Child Development Perspectives, 1(1), 13-18.

Lecture 5:

  • Nielsen, M. (2012). Imitation, pretend play, and childhood: essential elements in the evolution of human culture? Journal of Comparative Psychology, 126(2), 170-181. doi: 10.1037/a0025168
  • Gopnik, A., Griffiths, T. L., & Lucas, C. G. (2015). When younger learners can be better (or at least more open-minded) than older ones. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 24(2), 87-92. doi: 10.1177/0963721414556653
  • Haimovitz, K., & Dweck, C. (2017). The origins of children’s growth and fixed mindsets: New research and a new proposal. Child Development. DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12955

Lecture 6:

  • CCD2-Chapters 6 (Early memory development) & 13 (Early memory development)
  • DCN4-Chapter 8 (Learning and long-term memory)
  • Gelman, S. H., & Legare, C. H. (2011). Concepts and folk theories. Annual Review of Anthropology, 40, 379-398. doi: 10.1146/annurev-anthro-081309-145822

Lectures 7-8-9:

  • Diamond, A. (2013). Executive functions. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 135–168. 10.1146/annurev-psych-113011-143750.
  • Chevalier, N. (2015). Executive function development: Making sense of the environment to behave adaptively. Current Directions in Psychological Sciences, 24(5), 363-368. doi: 10.1177/0963721415593724
  • Munakata, Y. E., Snyder, H. R., & Chatham, C. H. (2012). Developing cognitive control: Three key transitions. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21, 71–77. doi:10.1177/0963721412436807
  • DCN4-Chapter 10 (Prefrontal cortex, working memory, and decision-making)

Lecture 10:

  • DCN4-Chapter 12 (Educational neuroscience)


Additional Information: 


Assessment Summary:  

1) Mid-course timed MCQ test (40 questions, 5 answer options) (30% of final grade)

2) Essay, up to 3000 words (70%). The essay questions will be released during the first lecture.


Detailed Assessment Information - 

Formative Feedback

  1. In class feedback exercises will be used to check understanding and to develop skills (e.g. quizzes, peer feedback on essay plans/drafts).
  2. The mid-course MCQ test is a summative assessment (so the mark will provide numerical feedback as to grade). As the MCQ test is designed to assess foundational knowledge about the course topic, performance on the MCQ test will provide formative feedback as to whether students have a good grasp of the foundations or need to do some more study to consolidate knowledge and provide the necessary basis for more advanced parts of the course to follow.

Summative Assessment: 

  1. Halfway through the course, students complete an MCQ. (30%)
  2. At the end of the course, students also complete an essay (coursework). The essay question requires critically integrating and reflecting on course materials. They give students an opportunity to show their understanding of how cognitive and brain developments are mutually supportive as well as of the methods used to investigate the developmental trajectories of cognitive abilities. The essay questions are released during the first lecture and students must hand in their essays shortly after the last lecture. (70%)

Relationship Between Assessment and Learning Outcomes:

The mid-course MCQ and final essay provide opportunities to assess all 4 learning outcomes.

Q1: The MCQ will assess knowledge and understanding of major advances in developmental cognitive neuroscience. The essay will assess critical evaluation of the scientific advances and challenges related to studying brain and cognitive developments in children.

Q2: MCQs will assess knowledge and understanding of developmental mechanisms driving age-related changes, while the essay will assess critical evaluation and reasoning based on these mechanisms.

Q3: MCQs and essay will assess understanding of the mutual influence between brain and cognitive developments.

Q4: MCQs and essay will assess understanding of the role of experience and the environment in brain and cognitive developments.