UCL Psychology and Language Sciences


Language and Cognition Seminar - Using systems neuroscience to understand typical and atypical cognitive development

23 May 2017, 1:00 pm–2:00 pm

Event Information


Chandler House, room G10

Speaker: Dr Duncan Astle, MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, University of Cambridge

Time: 1pm, Tuesday 23 May 2017
Venue: Room G10, Chandler House, 2 Wakefield Street, WC1N 1PF

The ability to control our attention and maintain information in working memory is important for learning and everyday functioning. 

Difficulties with executive functions like attentional control and working memory are key features of numerous neurodevelopmental disorders, and of children with no diagnosis but who struggle with learning. 

The approach hitherto taken to understanding these difficulties is to use case-control designs, with neuroimaging techniques reliant on voxel-by-voxel comparisons. 

These studies largely give the impression that developmental disorders are associated with discrete focal brain differences, relative to controls. However, we believe that this approach can overstate the relative purity of these disorders and these imaging methods are heavily biased towards finding small peaks of neural difference between children.

We have been taking an alternative approach, not reliant on case-control designs, that uses network science to explore brain organisation. We draw on a large sample (N>400) of children referred by specialist clinical and educational practitioners to a research clinic at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, and use a variety of structural and functional imaging techniques. We also explore changes in organisation following intensive practice on attentional control and working memory tasks, by applying machine learning techniques to a large sample of trainees (N=170).