Category Archives: news

News and notes from the Bunge Lab and beyond

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

Investigating hidden strengths among children with dyslexia

Professor Silvia Bunge recently received a grant in collaboration with Christa Watson and Marilu Gorno Tempini of UCSF’s Schwab Dyslexia and Cognitive Diversity Center. Their work will investigate how the different cognitive patterns in children with dyslexia can be adaptive and beneficial despite their difficulty with written language. This research will hopefully be able to serve as a way to eliminate stigma surrounding dyslexia and reframe the difficulties and skill sets among children with dyslexia. 

New Grant: The role of prefrontal sulcal morphology and brain network architecture in cognitive development

Kevin Weiner, primary investigator at the Cognitive Neuroanatomy Lab, and Silvia Bunge were recently awarded a grant from the National Institute on Child Development. As primary investigators, Kevin Weiner and Silvia Bunge are researching how the emergence of sulci on the cortex influences the maturation of brain function and behavior. Their research will focus on the sulci in the prefrontal cortex and utilize behavioral and brain imaging techniques to further explain their role in higher cognitive functions.


New NSF Grant: Collaborative Research: How does the brain represent abstract concepts?

We were recently awarded a NSF grant for collaborative research with David Kraemer at Dartmouth and Keith Holyoak and Hongjing Lu at UCLA. This grant will fund our investigation of how the brain represents abstract concepts. More specifically, we are interested in the representation of an abstract idea independently from the concrete topics that make up the content of that idea, if people represent concepts in an abstract manner spontaneously, and what neural markers reliably predict differences in reasoning capacity between individuals.  The hope for this research is that it can help identify how abstract thought and reasoning is represented, as well as inform how artificial intelligence systems can have more efficient learning mechanisms.

Award Abstract



Lab Publication Featured in Association for Psychological Science

Lab Publication Featured in Association for Psychological Science

Professor Silvia Bunge and Ph.D Candidate Elena Leib recently published a paper showing that teaching reasoning skills does in fact hone reasoning skills that have lasting effects in students. Their findings were recently featured by Association for Psychological Science.

The Paper

Congratulations to Elena, as this was her first publication since joining the Building Blocks for Cognition Lab!


New publication in Nature Partner Journal Science of Learning

We’ve just published a new paper showing that practicing reasoning skills improves efficiency of relational thinking, as measured on tasks that – on the surface – look nothing like the practiced ones.

The paper

Press release

Blog post on the NPJ Science of Learning Community website

Congratulations to Belén Guerra-Carrillo, the first author on this work! Belén just received her Ph.D. in the lab, and is now a Data Scientist working at Grammarly.


And thanks to Daniel Wittich at Kaplan for generously giving our participants access to their online LSAT test prep course – and to Adam Hampshire and Cambridge Brain Sciences for generously giving us access to their online cognitive assessments and supporting data collection.

Undergrad Keren Lev featured in Daily Californian

Keren Lev, an undergraduate RA in the lab, was featured in the Daily Californian for her summer research project on socioeconomic status and adaptation. The project was funded by Berkeley’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF), and Keren was chosen to be featured after she presented on her work at the end-of-summer SURF conference. This is part of an ongoing study in the lab, set to begin recruiting kids between the ages of  5 and 7 this month!

Read more about it here.

Building Blocks of Cognition Lab Has New Home

Berkeley Way West Stock Exterior 1After years in Barker Hall, the Building Blocks of Cognition Lab has now moved across the street to its new home in Berkeley Way West. The move was in conjunction with the entire UC Berkeley Department of Psychology, which left Tolman Hall in anticipation of its impending demolition due to ongoing seismic concerns.

Berkeley Way West InteriorBerkeley Way West is located at 2121 Berkeley Way and houses the School of Public Health and the School of Education in addition to the Department of Psychology. It will eventually hold around 7,000 square feet of ground floor retail in addition to classrooms and research labs.


Bunge Lab Farewells

As the academic year comes to an end we want to celebrate lab alumni that are going separate ways. Four wonderful lab members, Carter, Chloe, Allison, and Heather were great members at the Bunge Lab. All four have contributed so much to the lab over the course of many years… Carter has spent 14 years in in the lab, joining the lab a month after it was started, all the way to receiving his Ph.D. in computer science from Berkeley. Chloe came next, first as our lab manager and then as a graduate student in the School Psychology program. Then Alison, first as a volunteer working after-hours while holding down a professional job, and later as a graduate student in Psychology. And finally, Heather, first as a volunteer and then taking on more and more responsibilities until she became our lab manager and now she is on her way as graduate student at University of Oregon. Simply put, the lab would be completely different today without their expertise, hard work, and loyalty. You all will be missed and we wish you good luck!