Development of Cognition

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We are currently running two studies of cognitive development.

Maturation of Executive Function in Typically Developing Children

Brief Description:

In this study, we are interested in how the cognitive capacities that enable goal-directed behavior (e.g., working memory and response inhibition), also known as executive functions, develop across middle childhood and adolescence.  Specifically, we aim to investigate whether working memory and inhibition, as assessed by performance on simple and complex behavioral tasks, mature at different rates across ages 4 to 17.  We are also investigating the neural correlates of executive function development using fMRI.

Eligibility for Participation:

We are currently recruiting normally developing 4-17 year-olds at the Boston Children's Museum.

Participation Details

Visitors to the Boston Children's Museum can participate in our study, which involves a computer game that takes approximately 8 minutes to complete.  In addition, parents/guardians will be asked to answer a brief questionnaire.  A toy prize is given for completing the study.

Full Description:

In neuropsychology, "executive functioning" (EF) refers to a set of cognitive skills (e.g., working memory, inhibition, and cognitive flexibility) that depend on the prefrontal cortex and enable people to effectively and efficiently perform complex, goal-oriented tasks.  Identifying how these skills develop to maturity is relevant not only to our basic understanding of cognitive development, but also to clinical and educational theory and practice, as deficits of EF are associated with many neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g., ADHD, conduct disorder) and individual differences in EF among normally developing children predict -- above and beyond IQ -- important outcomes such as school readiness and social and cognitive functioning in young adulthood.  We seek to inform these endeavors by documenting the rates at which working memory (the ability to hold and manipulate information in mind) and inhibition (the ability to control impulsive behavior) progress in development from ages 4-17, as well how patterns of prefrontal cortex activation during a laboratory test of EF change across middle childhood.

At this stage in the study, children and adolescents who express interest in participating at the Children's Museum will play a brief (less than 10 minute) computer game that measures EF by rates of accuracy and speed in responses.  Parents/guardians will also be asked to complete a short questionnaire about demographics and health.

Research Contact:

If you are interested in participating with your child at the Children's Museum, please e-mail Warren Winter at or call 857-218-5224.

Development of Procedural Memory

Brief Description:

The goal of this research is to investigate the maturation of procedural memory in the developing human brain.  Procedural memory (skill learning or "knowing how") is a fundamental aspect of human cognition underlying many forms of learning.  We are interested in studying the development of this form of memory since: (1) procedural memory is hypothesized to be impaired in many developmental disorders including Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Tourette's syndrome, dyslexia, and specific language impairment; and (2) the primary neural substrates implicated in procedural memory exhibit prolonged structural maturation, leaving open the question of how procedural memory is actualized in the developing human brain.  Our research investigates how procedural memory changes as children develop.  This is accomplished through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of children and adults performing tasks that require the use of various aspects of procedural memory.

Eligibility for Participation:

We are currently recruiting normally developing 8-18 year-olds who are native English speakers.

Participation Details

This study involves one 3-hour visit to MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research located at Main Street @ Albany Street in Cambridge.  There will be a practice session with a "mock" MRI scanner followed by an fMRI scanning session during which participants will play a series of games that test different aspects of procedural memory.  Compensation of $30 per hour, in the form of a gift card from one of a variety of retailers, will be provided for participation.  In addition, we provide free parking for each visit.

Research Contact:

If you are interested in participating, please email or call 617-324-5116!


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