Infant fMRI: A Model System for Cognitive Neuroscience
Our understanding of the typical human brain has benefited greatly from studying fundamentally different kinds of brains and their associated behavioral repertoires, including animal models and neuropsychological patients. This same comparative perspective can be applied developmentally — the environment, behavior, and brains of infants provide a model system for understanding how the mature brain works. In my research I use fMRI with awake, behaving infants to leverage what makes infants unique in order to learn about all cognitive systems. To demonstrate the value of this approach I describe two research programs which each address a puzzle in cognitive neuroscience. One examines the nature of infant attention to ask how infants and adults alike are capable of sifting through a world full of complexity. Another asks how infants are able to learn so much, yet remember so little later in life; with a focus on showing how this may motivate the organization of the mature memory system. Throughout, I demonstrate the value of using approaches typically reserved for adult cognitive neuroscience to reveal insights about the developing mind.