Educational Neuroscience

popeDr. Petitto has had a leading international role in the creation of a new scientific discipline that she and her colleague, Dr. Kevin Dunbar, first termed “Educational Neuroscience” [1, 2]. In 2004, Petitto had the honor of meeting Pope John Paul II who invited a small group for a meeting to introduce the new scientific discipline “Educational Neuroscience” at the Pontifical Academy of Science’s Anniversary Celebration of Galileo Galilei’s 400th birthday.

What is it?

Educational Neuroscience (also known as Mind, Brain, and Education) is an exciting and timely new discipline. Educational Neuroscience pioneers how humans learn, spanning early child development and adults. Using advanced neuroimaging and behavioral methodologies, the five scientific domains of this new discipline involve a honed interest in the neuroplasticity of learning at the core of early child development and schooling: (i) Language and Bilingualism, (ii) Reading and Literacy, (iii) Math and Numeracy, (iv) Science and Biological knowledge, and (v) Social/Emotional/Moral growth.

Educational Neuroscience brings together individuals from diverse backgrounds, including cognitive brain scientists, learning scientists, medical and clinical practitioners, and those in educational policy and teaching. These individuals are joined in their mutual “two-way” communication, with a commitment (a) to solve prevailing problems in the lives of developing children, (b) to understand the human learning capabilities over the life span (both in brain and in behavior), and (c) to ground educational change in the highly principled application of research that employs both behavioral as well as a multitude of modern methodologies, especially brain imaging. This discipline provides the most relevant level of analysis for resolving today’s core problems in education. Educational Neuroscience draws its empirical strength from its sister discipline, Cognitive Neuroscience, which combines decades of experimental advances from cognitive, perceptual, and developmental psychology with a variety of contemporary brain imaging technologies for exploring the neural basis of human knowledge over the life span.


As a Research Professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College and also the Chair of Dartmouth’s former education department (2002-2007), Petitto helped create and found a new “Department of Educational Neuroscience and Human Development.” This Chairmanship position also entailed her involvement in the re-design and re-certification of the department’s State of New Hampshire Teacher Certification Program in which she initiated curriculum changes that incorporated Educational Neuroscience courses and foundational research training for future teachers.

Also at Dartmouth, Dr. Petitto was the major author, with Dr. Kevin Dunbar, of a new National Science Foundation, Science of Learning Center, called the “Center for Cognitive and Educational Neuroscience.” The core group of Center co-PIs (Michael Gazzaniga, Laura-Ann Petitto, Kevin Dunbar, Scott Grafton, Todd Heatherton) led a team of over 50 scientists in cognitive and educational neuroscience studies of language, bilingualism, reading, science knowledge, and social-emotional development.