Speakers - Block 3

"Education and the brain

Michael Thomas

Where does the complex structure of the human cognitive system come from? How do genes influence its construction differently from our animal cousins? How much does the mind's detailed structure rely on genetic instructions to build specific brain mechanisms versus an instruction just to build general computational power (and let learning do the rest)? How much does the structure of the human mind rely on the intricately layered cultural environment in which we are brought up? What is responsible for the change in performance we see as children get older? What can give two children or adults of the same age different cognitive abilities? What can go wrong in the construction of the mind? All these questions drive my research. One of my main research methods is building computational models of human cognition: I want to see processes of cognitive development happening in formal, concrete simulations.

"Attention, Working Memory and Dynamic Brain Activity"

Duncan Astle

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. We have been exploring these difficulties in a large sample of children referred by specialist clinical and educational practitioners to a research clinic at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit. In this talk Dr Astle will present his own research before providing a practical session on the best ways to maximise working memory, with a focus on cognitive training and other classroom interventions.


Elliot Wimmer

"Neuroplasticity and Robotic Arms"

Tamar Makin

Following arm-amputation, a person faces overwhelming challenges to adapt to their daily routine. Simple everyday tasks, such as lacing shoes, become a tremendous challenge, which amputees have to learn to overcome single-handed. Their brain, too, will undergo major changes (brain plasticity). In the talk I would examine whether brain resources, originally developed to support hand function, could be “recruited” to work for other body parts, including artificial limbs. Based on this evidence, I suggest that brain plasticity could be exploited for improving rehabilitation.