Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience: Infancy (PSYL10136)

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Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience: Infancy (PSYL10136)

Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience: Infancy

Instructor: Dr Hugh Rabagliati

  • Lectures: Thursdays from 2pm – 4pm, Basement Theatre, Adam House.
  • Office Hours: Tuesdays from 12pm-1pm, Rm S31, 7 George Square.

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

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

The course will develop students' skills at critical analysis, writing and presenting. It will also allow them to apply their statistical analysis skills to data on infant development. 


This course covers how cognition and the brain change from gestation up to the age of around 2 years. It focuses on the reciprocal relationship between cognitive and brain development, and how these developmental pathways are affected by the infant’s physical and social environment.

In the first half of the course, we will survey a range of topics in infant development, from perception and sensation to theory of mind. In the second half, we will focus in depth on perhaps the most remarkable skill that human infants possess: the ability to learn language. The course is structured so that, in the first section, you learn about general principles of psychological development and then, in the second section, you apply them to the study of language.

Lecture Information 

Lecture Dates Title Topics Covered
21/09/2018 Class 1: From Conception to Birth
  • Development of the nervous system
  • The prenatal environment and cognition
  • Cognition in caregivers
28/09/2018 Class 2: Sensation, Perception & Volition 1
  • Visual development
  • Intersensory perception
  • Agency
05/10/2018 Class 3: Sensation, Perception & Volition 2
  • Action and motor development
  • Auditory development
  • Musical development
12/10/2018 Class 4: Cognition 1
  • Associationist and Rationalist theories of cognitive development
  • Attention
  • Concepts and categories
19/10/2018 Class 5: Cognition 2
  • Theories of learning
  • Comparison and analogical reasoning
  • Executive functions
26/10/2018 Class 6: Social Development 1
  • Theory of Mind
02/11/2018 Class 7: Social Development 2
  • Social identity
09/11/2018 Class 8: Language 1
  • Neonatal environment
  • Sensation and perception
16/11/2018 Class 9: Language 2
  • Nativism and empiricism
  • Theories of learning
23/11/2018 Class 10: Language 3
  • Language and theory of mind
  • Language and social identity


19/09/2018 - 3:25pm
Learning Outcomes: 


On completion of this course, the student will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of recent scientific advances, debates, and challenges regarding brain and cognitive development in infancy.
  2. Analyze the developmental mechanisms driving cognitive and neural changes during infancy.
  3. Demonstrate an understanding of how cognitive development and brain development are mutually supportive
  4. Analyze the role of experience and the environment in brain and cognitive development
  5. Gain experience analyzing developmental data using the R language.

Goals and Learning Outcomes

This course aims to give you advanced knowledge of, and practical experience studying, the developmental cognitive neuroscience of infancy. This will be achieved through a series of lectures describing important findings and research methods in this domain, through intensive reading of the primary literature, through two graded assessments (a multiple-choice exam [30% of your mark] and a final essay [70% of your mark]), and through informal formative assessment via in-class quizzes and out-of-class homework assignments, in which you will analyze developmental data using R.





The readings from this class will be drawn from the primary literature, but a helpful general primer is:

  • Johnson, M.H., & de Haan, M. (2015) Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience: An Introduction (4th Edition). Oxford, UK: Wiley Blackwell

Review Articles

  • Adolph, K. E., Hoch, J. E., & Cole, W. G. (2018). Development (of walking): 15 suggestions. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 22, 699-711.
  • Amso, D., & Scerif, G. (2015). The attentive brain: insights from developmental cognitive neuroscience. Nature Reviews Neuroscience16(10), 606.
  • Braddick, O., & Atkinson, J. (2011). Development of human visual function. Vision research51(13), 1588-1609.
  • Carey, S. (2011). Précis of the origin of concepts. Behavioral and Brain Sciences34(3), 113-124.
  • Kuhl, P. K. (2010). Brain mechanisms in early language acquisition. Neuron67(5), 713-727.
  • Xu, F., & Kushnir, T. (2013). Infants are rational constructivist learners. Current Directions in Psychological Science22(1), 28-32.


Additional Information: 


Assessment Information

Mid-course (30%): Timed multiple choice questions (40, 5 answer options)
Final (70%): 3000 word Essay (coursework)

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. While the mid-course assessment (MCQ) is summative, it will also provide feedback as to whether students have mastered the foundational theories and empirical results in the study of infant cognitive neuroscience. Thus, students can use their results to determine whether to allocate additional effort to this class. 
3. Structured optional programming assignments (using the R language) will allow students to gain experience analyzing real-world data from infants, applying their research methods and statistics knowledge in context.

Summative Assessment

  1. Halfway through the course, students complete a set of 40 multiple choice questions that assess their mastery of the major theories and empirical results in infant cognitive neuroscience. The questions will require students to think critically about the relationship between theory and data, and provide a foundation for the specialized topics covered in the second half of the course.
    1. This assessment will take place during the first half of the 6th lecture.
  2. At the end of the course, students complete an essay (coursework). The essay question requires critically integrating and reflecting on course materials. This gives students an opportunity to show their understanding of how cognitive and brain development are mutually supportive as well as of the methods used to investigate the developmental trajectories of cognitive abilities.
    1. The essay questions will be released during the first lecture, and the essay will be handed in one week after the final lecture.

Formative Assessment

  1. Informal, in-class quizzes will occur on an ad hoc basis.
  2. Informal and optional R programming exercises will be distributed on occasion during the semester, to be completed outside of lecture hours.