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Précis of Neuroconstructivism: How the Brain Constructs Cognition

Sylvain Siroisa1, Michael Spratlinga2a3, Michael S. C. Thomasa4, Gert Westermanna5a6, Denis Mareschala7 and Mark H. Johnsona8

a1 School of Psychological Sciences, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PL, United Kingdom sylvain.sirois@manchester.ac.uk http://www.psych-sci.manchester.ac.uk/staff/SylvainSirois

a2 Division of Engineering, King's College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS, United Kingdom

a3 Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, School of Psychology, Birkbeck University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX, United Kingdom michael.spratling@kcl.ac.uk http://www.kcl.ac.uk/schools/pse/diveng/research/cmms/ms/

a4 Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, School of Psychology, Birkbeck University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX, United Kingdom m.thomas@psychology.bbk.ac.uk http://www.bbk.ac.uk/psyc/staff/academic/mthomas

a5 Department of Psychology, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford OX3 0BP United Kingdom

a6 Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, School of Psychology, Birkbeck University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX, United Kingdom gwestermann@brookes.ac.uk http://www.cbcd.bbk.ac.uk/people/scientificstaff/gert/

a7 Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, School of Psychology, Birkbeck University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX, United Kingdom d.mareschal@bbk.ac.uk http://www.bbk.ac.uk/psyc/staff/academic/dmareschal

a8 Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, School of Psychology, Birkbeck University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX, United Kingdom mark.johnson@bbk.ac.uk http://www.bbk.ac.uk/psyc/staff/academic/mjohnson

Abstract

Neuroconstructivism: How the Brain Constructs Cognition proposes a unifying framework for the study of cognitive development that brings together (1) constructivism (which views development as the progressive elaboration of increasingly complex structures), (2) cognitive neuroscience (which aims to understand the neural mechanisms underlying behavior), and (3) computational modeling (which proposes formal and explicit specifications of information processing). The guiding principle of our approach is context dependence, within and (in contrast to Marr [1982]) between levels of organization. We propose that three mechanisms guide the emergence of representations: competition, cooperation, and chronotopy; which themselves allow for two central processes: proactivity and progressive specialization. We suggest that the main outcome of development is partial representations, distributed across distinct functional circuits. This framework is derived by examining development at the level of single neurons, brain systems, and whole organisms. We use the terms encellment, embrainment, and embodiment to describe the higher-level contextual influences that act at each of these levels of organization. To illustrate these mechanisms in operation we provide case studies in early visual perception, infant habituation, phonological development, and object representations in infancy. Three further case studies are concerned with interactions between levels of explanation: social development, atypical development and within that, developmental dyslexia. We conclude that cognitive development arises from a dynamic, contextual change in embodied neural structures leading to partial representations across multiple brain regions and timescales, in response to proactively specified physical and social environment.

Sylvain Sirois obtained a B.Sc. in Psychology from the Universite du Quebec a Montreal and a Ph.D. in Psychology from McGill University. He was a research fellow at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development (Birkbeck, University of London) and, since 2002, has been a lecturer at the University of Manchester. Sirois's research focuses on mechanisms of learning and development, through a combination of neurally inspired computational modeling and empirical studies. The main focus of his current work is methodological aspects of infant habituation work, specifically focusing on pupil dilation responses as a complement to looking time measures.

Michael Spratling received a B.Eng. degree in Engineering Science from Loughborough University and M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in Artificial Intelligence and Neural Computation from the University of Edinburgh. He has held research positions both in psychology and in engineering and is currently a lecturer in the Division of Engineering at King's College London. His research is concerned with creating biologically plausible computational models to investigate the function and development of the cerebral cortex and specifically the neural mechanisms underlying visual perception.

Michael Thomas received a B.Sc. degree in psychology from the University of Exeter, an M.Sc. in Cognitive Science from the University of Birmingham, and a D.Phil. in Experimental Psychology (on behavioral and computational studies of bilingualism) from the University of Oxford. He is currently a Reader in Cognitive Neuropsychology at Birkbeck College, University of London. His research focuses on language and cognitive development, and specifically neurocomputational explanations of the variability seen in typical children and in children with developmental disorders. (www.psyc.bbk.ac.uk/research/DNL/.)

Gert Westermann received a Diploma in Computer Science from the University of Braunschweig and a Ph.D. in Cognitive Science from the University of Edinburgh. He was a Research Fellow at the Sony Computer Science Laboratory in Paris and at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development at Birkbeck College, University of London. He joined Oxford Brookes University in 2003 and is now a Reader in Psychology. Westermann's research employs computational models inspired by experience-dependent brain development as well as empirical studies. His current work focuses on infant categorization, the development and adult processing of inflectional morphology, and early speech sound development.

Denis Mareschal obtained his first degree in Physics and Theoretical Physics from Cambridge University. He then completed a Masters in Psychology at McGill University before moving on to complete a Ph.D. at Oxford University. He has received the Marr prize from the Cognitive Science Society (U.S.A.), the Young Investigator Award from the International Society on Infant Studies (U.S.A.), and the Margaret Donaldson Prize from the British Psychological Society. His research centers on developing mechanistic models of perceptual and cognitive development in infancy and childhood. He is currently Professor at Birkbeck College, University of London.

Mark H. Johnson is an MRC scientific team leader and Director of the Centre for Brain & Cognitive Development at Birkbeck, University of London. He obtained his first degree in Biology and Psychology from the University of Edinburgh and his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Cambridge. In between two periods as a Research Scientist (1985–89 and 1993–98) at the MRC Cognitive Development Unit, London, he was Associate Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh. He has published over 150 papers and nine books on brain and cognitive development in human infants and other species, and is Co-Editor-in-Chief of Developmental Science. His laboratory currently focuses on typical and atypical functional brain development in human infants and toddlers using several imaging, behavioral and modeling techniques. Along with his collaborators, he was awarded the Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher Education in 2005.

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