PSYD 26: Genes, Brain and the Development of Mind

babygenesIn this advanced seminar we will explore a revolutionary new approach to the study of human development and the development of human higher cognitive capacities, called “Cognitive Neurogenetics” and “Developmental Cognitive Neurogenetics.” This groundbreaking approach builds on the advent of innovative DNA Genotyping analyses of groups of genes that have been associated with aspects of higher cognition as well as Microchip array analyses.

The approach joins 3 disciplines: DNA Genotyping and Microchip array analyses with the most advanced Brain Imaging technology from cognitive neuroscience and the leading Behavioral psycholinguistic and developmental methods from psychology. Together, the unification of these three disciplines under “one roof” affords the most stunning new lens into the evolution and nature of the human mind and brain to date, including human cognition, aspects of emotion and social behavior, language, reading and language disorders, math and numeracy, and creativity.

Through exciting discussion, critical evaluation, and lively debate, the course will lay bare this significant modern scientific advancement of thought and methods. It will further consider seriously its greater ethical and moral impact on society and the conduct of scientific inquiry.

PSYD 25: The Bilingual Brain

brainWhat happens when one brain contains two languages, or three languages, or even more? Is the result “linguistic confusion?” Do Bilinguals think differently than monolinguals? Is language processing more difficult in individuals navigating between two languages as compared to those who only know one? Are the brains of bilinguals similar to or different from the brains of monolinguals? Are bilinguals “smarter?” Is it harmful to expose young babies to different languages at the same time? Won’t these children become “language confused” or, worse, “language-delayed?” In this course, you will discover the answers to these questions.

You will explore the prevailing theoretical explanations of bilingual language processing and the bilingual brain. You will break open questions concerning the human mind with multiple languages—especially language versus thought—and discover how they are now being answered around the world using advanced behavioral methods and state-of-the-art neuroimaging technology, including PET, fMRI, ERP, and fNIRS.

You will unravel prevailing myths about bilingualism and contrast them with the emerging developmental, language processing, and brain organization facts now known about the bilingual brain. You will also unravel key concepts in contemporary science about the brain and its capacity to learn, including innateness, environmental, and epigenetic influences on development, critical and sensitive period hypotheses, lateralization, plasticity, and hemispheric specialization.You will evaluate contemporary paradoxical views about bilinguals held in society, including claims that have garnered dazzling positive media attention (e.g., “bilinguals are smarter”) and compare these claims to other negative views that have led to public referenda in various countries around the world to ban bilingualism.

PSYC 25: How the Child Discovers Language

discoveryHuman Language is one of the most spectacular of the brain’s cognitive capacities, one of the most powerful instruments in the mind’s tool kit for thought, and one of the most profound means we as a species use in social, emotional, and cultural communication. Yet the break-neck speed and seemingly “effortless” way that young children acquire Language remain its most miraculous characteristic.

Despite different cultural backgrounds and home rearing environments, all healthy children by around age three and a half have already acquired the basic elements of their native Language. We will discover the biological capacities as well as the environmental input and social interaction factors (e.g., family, schooling) that, taken together, make this feat possible. To appreciate the task facing the young child, we will ask what is Language and how is it similar to and different from Communication.

We will establish the basic facts of language acquisition, including children’s babbling, phonology, early vocabulary, morphology, syntax, semantics, and discourse knowledge, as well as their early gestural, pragmatic and discourse competence. Prevailing theoretical explanations and related research methods will also be explored.

We will then leave our hearing-speaking modality and explore the world of language acquisition in total silence—the world of Deaf and hearing children acquiring natural signed languages—as a new window into the factors that are most key in acquiring all human Language.We will dispel myths about bilingual children’s acquisition of two Languages.

Whenever applicable, we will explore the above through the exciting new lens of the world’s most advanced Neuroimaging technologies for looking inside the baby’s brain as well as new Genetic polymorphism and Microchip analyses into the genetic foundations of language acquisition in our species.

You will gain the scientific skills to evaluate and assess such claims and their far-reaching impact on society. Overall, you will discover the theories, methods, and analytical reasoning skills that, together, permit such seemingly intractable questions about the bilingual brain, dual language processing, and thinking in two languages to be laid bare.