Title: Learning and memory in early human development
Abstract: Cognitive neuroscience provides a rich account of how brain systems give rise to diverse forms of learning and memory. However, these theories are mostly based on adult data and often neglect early development, perhaps the greatest period of learning in life. A key challenge for studying cognition in young children is the limited set of behavioral measures available, especially in infants. Neural measures from EEG and fNIRS provide a window into the infant mind, but have coarse spatial resolution and lack access to deep-brain structures such as the hippocampus that are critical for adult learning and memory. I will present our recent efforts to adapt fMRI, which addresses some of these limitations, for studying awake human infants during cognitive tasks. I will focus on one line of studies, concerning a mystery about how the brain supports statistical learning: The hippocampus is important for statistical learning in adults, and statistical learning is a core building block of the infant mind, yet the hippocampal system is often assumed to be immature in infants (e.g., to explain infantile amnesia). This and our other fMRI studies in awake infants aim to advance understanding of the functions and plasticity of the youngest minds and brains.