Development of human lateral prefrontal sulcal morphology and its relation to reasoning performance

Research assistant Ethan Willbrand published a preprint identifying a relationship between developmental changes in the morphology of sulci in lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC) and reasoning performance in childhood and adolescence. Analysis of both cross-sectional and longitudinal data sets revealed differences in cortical thickness between children (ages 6-11) and adolescents (ages 11-18). Further analysis revealed that longitudinal changes in cortical thickness of four rostral LPFC sulci predicted longitudinal changes in reasoning performance. Contrary to previous findings, these results suggest that sulci may flatten either after this time frame or over a longer longitudinal period of time than previously presented. Crucially, these results also suggest that longitudinal changes in the cortex within specific LPFC sulci are behaviorally meaningful—providing targeted structures, and areas of the cortex, for future neuroimaging studies examining the development of cognitive abilities.

You can read the paper here:

Uncovering a tripartite landmark in posterior cingulate cortex

Research assistant Ethan Willbrand and PhD student Benjamin Parker of the Cognitive Neuroanatomy Lab published a new study uncovering a sulcus in posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) that is absent from neuroanatomical atlases. Variability in the location and morphology of this novel sulcus, termed the inframarginal sulcus (ifrms), is predictive of individual differences in macroanatomical and microstructural features of PCC, in addition to the location of functional regions of the lateral frontoparietal network implicated in cognitive control. The findings from this study provide support for Sanides’ classic hypothesis that tertiary sulci may serve as landmarks within association cortices.

You can read the paper here: Uncovering a tripartite landmark in posterior cingulate cortex | Science Advances

Presence or absence of a prefrontal sulcus is linked to reasoning performance during child development

A new study published by research assistant Ethan Willbrand and PhD student Willa Voorhies revealed that the presence or absence of the ventral component of the para-intermediate frontal sulcus (pimfs) is associated with reasoning performance in children. The findings from this study highlight the importance of considering individual differences in local morphology when exploring the neurodevelopmental basis of cognition.

You can read the paper here: Presence or absence of a prefrontal sulcus is linked to reasoning performance during child development | SpringerLink

Relational thinking: an executive function?

Former postdoc Ariel Starr – now an Assistant Professor at U Washington -  and current grad student Elena Leib have published a new study on relational thinking. We argue that this mid-level cognitive process should be considered one of the executive functions, since it has many of the same characteristics. We find that it predicts math performance over and above canonical executive functions. Congrats to Ariel and Elena!



Congrats to doctoral candidate Smriti Mehta!

IMG_3889Smriti, after being quizzed on implicit theories of intelligence and academic motivation by her Qualifying Exam Committee. Onward and upward!

Importance of investing in adolescent education

On April 12-14, 2022, Professor Caroline Hoxby from Stanford came to UC Berkeley to deliver the prestigious Tanner Lectures on Human Values. Prof. Hoxby argued that early adolescence is a time when honing advanced cognitive skills is critical for future academic attainment and career opportunities. Silvia Bunge served as one of the three invited discussants, along with an economist from the University of Chicago (Prof. Erik Hurst) and a political scientist from Princeton (Prof. Jan-Werner Müller). The lectures and commentaries will be published as a book by Oxford University Press.

Lecture 1 & Discussion: The Fork in the Road: Adolescence, Education, and Economic Fatalism

Lecture 2 & Discussion: Smart Money: Educational Investments in Adolescents Earn Higher Returns

Roundtable with Commentators

Lab paper makes Nature Human Behaviour’s 2021 Top 25 Social Sciences and Human Behaviour Articles

A paper led by graduate student Monica Ellwood-Lowe, in collaboration with collaborator Susan Whitfield-Gabrieli, received the 2021 Top 25 Social Sciences and Human Behaviour Articles distinction from Nature Human Behaviour.

The paper found that a pattern of brain function that is adaptive for children above poverty–and well-replicated in the literature–does not seem to be adaptive for children living in poverty, who have been less represented in our studies. This suggests that children in poverty who perform well on cognitive tests might be relying on different day-to-day thought-patterns than their higher-income peers who perform well, perhaps to deal with different structural barriers to success.

You can read the paper here:

Neural correlates of behavioral and academic resilience in children

Ph.D. Student, Monica Ellwood-Lowe, and Research Assistant, Carolyn Irving, recently published a paper entitled “Exploring neural correlates of behavioral and academic resilience among children in poverty.” Monica and Carolyn examined how LFPN-DMN between network coupling is related to children’s school grades and attention problems over ages 9-13. They found that for children living above the poverty line, higher LFPN-DMN connectivity was associated with worse grades and attentional problems, while children living below the poverty line showed the opposite relationship.

Exploring neural correlates of behavioral and academic resilience among children in poverty

Sulcal depth and its impact on cognitive skills

Ph.D. Student Willa Voorhies recently published a preprint on the tertiary sulcal development in children and their impact on individual differences in reasoning skills. Willa investigated how the depth of tertiary sulci in the Lateral Prefrontal cortex impacts the efficiency of local neural signals, finding that it improves these signals which underly cognitive skills. The depth of tertiary sulci is able to predict individual differences in reasoning skills beyond predictions from age.

Cognitive insights from evolutionarily new brain structures in prefrontal cortex

Willa’s Flux Talk


Going Beyond Traditional Ideas of Brain Activity in Children

Ph.D. student Monica Ellwood-Lowe recently published a preprint entitled “What is an adaptive pattern of brain activity for a child? It depends on their environment.” This new research found that while children living above the federal poverty line tend to have better cognitive performance when having weaker connectivity between lateral frontoparietal and default mode networks, children who live in poverty show a trend in the opposite direction. Monica gave a presentation on this research at Flux in September and hopes this research will help inform further research on what it means to have optimal brain activity in many realms beyond the traditional classroom.

The Preprint

Monica’s Flux Talk