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57536552 2770 Understanding the Brain the Birth of a New Learning Science v 2 by Organization for Economic Cooperation

57536552 2770 Understanding the Brain the Birth of a New Learning Science v 2 by Organization for Economic Cooperation

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Published by: rafa_w on Jul 27, 2011
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12/31/2012

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In the studies referred to above the focus has been on structural changes in the brain as

a function of age. Another way to study the relationship between cognitive functions, brain

development, and age is by means of activation studies performed with functional imaging

techniques (PET and fMRI). These types of studies reveal brain activity (as opposed to

structural changes) associated with different tasks (e.g. reading, object recognition, etc.). The

advantage of these studies is that observed differences between groups (e.g. adolescents vs.

adults) are directly related to the task being solved by the subjects. This is not necessarily so

if one has only found an area in which brain development seems to mirror the development

of some cognitive function. Such a correlation, say between the areaA and the cognitive

function B, could in principle be caused by changes in the cognitive functionC if functionC

develops in the same way as B over time. In activation studies this can be controlled directly

because the researcher can decide which cognitive functions are to be called upon– it will

depend on the task chosen.

The number of activations studies examining age differences far exceeds the number

of corresponding structural studies. A review of these studies is therefore beyond the scope

of this paper. In general it can be concluded that these studies indicate that children/

adolescents activate more areas of the brain than adults do and that these activations are

more diffuse (Casey et al., 2005). This is consistent with: i) the finding that the overcapacity

of synapses in children and adolescents is eliminated in time; and ii) that there is

continuing growth of white matter that ties regions more effectively. Both aspects should

yield more focal activation as a function of age.

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