Mini-symposium on the Neuroscience of Cognitive Development

After the talks, at 3.30pm, students and postdocs are welcome to join for a virtual "pub chat" with Prof. Scerif and Donald. Details on how to join the talk and the informal "pub chat" will be released via our mailing list (info on how to subscribe on

We are proud to host this virtual mini-symposium in collaboration with the University of Cape Town Cortex Club. Speakers will highlight research on the developmental processes underlying cognitive control and the effects of environmental risk factors on neural pathways in human cognitive development.

Gaia Scerif:
“Using developmental cognitive neuroscience tools to investigate mechanisms of atypical cognitive control”.

From very early in development, we are equipped with exquisite attentional skills, whose improvement is coupled with increased effectiveness of cognitive control networks over childhood, adolescence and into adulthood. I will review data and implications from atypically developing children and adolescents, with a focus on children’s atypical cognitive control and decision making. This presentation will draw from a combination of fMRI focused network analyses and EEG analyses”.

Kirsten Donald:
“Neuroimaging the very young high risk brain: lessons from a south African birth cohort”

Genes and the pre-birth environment together prepare the developing brain for postnatal life. There is robust epidemiological and preclinical evidence for the role of environmental risk factors (e.g. foetal exposure to maternal infection or fever, drugs or toxins) in the causal pathways for poor neurodevelopmental outcomes. This is critically important in low-resource settings, where environmental risks are highly prevalent and frequently overlapping in individual children and risk for poor cognitive and academic outcome is high. However, epidemiology does not tell us about mechanisms and preclinical studies do not fully capture the complex human condition. Therefore, to make a difference where it matters most, we need to directly investigate how the early environment alters the potential of children exposed to adversity. Here I present the brain as an accessible ‘intermediate phenotype’ in the complicated path from multifactorial risks to heterogeneous outcomes in the very young developing human brain in the African context.