Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Initiative

A research initiative as well as a doctoral program in developmental cognitive neuroscience has been developed in the Department of Psychology at the University of Houston. Developmental cognitive neuroscience can be defined as the study of cognitive processes and their neurological bases in the developing organism. Researchers in this area are attempting to understand the development of such cognitive processes as perception, speech, language, reading, attention, thinking, memory, and emotions. They are using the latest imaging, electrophysiological, and neurochemical techniques to determine the neural correlates of these processes. Animal models are also employed by some of these researchers to further our understanding of the developing brain and disorders of development.

Internationally there continues to be an emphasis on neuroscience research that culminated in the Decade of the Brain in the United States in the 1990s. There is no sign of this emphasis abating. Indeed, it would be difficult to find a major research university or medical school without a neuroscience initiative that is multi-disciplinary in nature. There appears to be an increased emphasis politically and in the health care system on child health and development. As a result, there are tremendous funding opportunities for researchers in developmental cognitive neuroscience. For instance, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) have set up a joint committee to review grant applications involving research with children. NINDS and NICHD are currently inviting exploratory/developmental research grant applications to facilitate the translation of fundamental neurobiology to pediatric brain disorders of anomalous development, neurodegeneration, and injury with emphasis on cross-discipline collaborations, novel hypotheses, and unique approaches. This research is so important. Assumptions are sometimes made about the developing organism that are both incorrect and disastrous for children. For instance, it was a long-held belief in the clinical community that the consequences of a brain injury were less serious for children than adults because the child's brain is more plastic and adapts more easily. On the basis of this belief policy makers even argued that car seats for children need not be mandatory since they would recover better from brain damage. We now know that this belief was incorrect, that damage to the developing organism may prevent cognitive processes that should develop at later stages from developing normally and that the consequences are sometimes more serious in the long term. While cognitive processes and their neural underpinnings need to be understood in children in order to facilitate their development, such research can also help adults. For instance, adults who have difficulty with cognitive processing may benefit from strategies derived from our understanding of how these processes develop normally in children. We intend to take a life-span approach to many of the problems investigated.

Positions for well-trained individuals in developmental cognitive neuroscience are likely to continue to be available in academic departments of psychology and education as well as in medical schools and other research facilities.

The University of Houston is a recognized leader internationally in the education and training of clinical neuropsychologists as well as individuals in the subspecialty of clinical child neuropsychology. This is in large part because of the resources already available in the Department of Psychology and the Texas Medical Center in terms of research programs and practicum experiences with individuals throughout the lifespan (ie., babies, children, adolescents, and adults). There is perhaps one of the largest concentrations of neuropsychologists having research and clinical interests in developmental cognitive neuroscience in the country. Quite a few of these individuals have an international reputation for scholarship and have been very successful in attracting external funding, for instance, from the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, and the National Science Foundation.

Developmental cognitive neuroscience would bring together under one research initiative clinical neuropsychologists, cognitive psychologists, developmental psychologists, statisticians, engineers, and physicians, for instance. This initiative would give them access to graduate students seeking research training in this area and potentially should lead to more extensive collaborations with program affiliated faculty. Collaborations with individuals at the University of Texas – Houston Health Sciences Center, Baylor College of Medicine are already well established. Additionally, collaborations with the cognitive psychology program at Rice University could result as well as collaborations with individuals in other departments at the University of Houston.

The addition of several key individuals with a theoretical approach to the study of developmental aspects of cognition as related to the developing nervous system will increase our national and international prominence in this area. Excellence funding from the State of Texas is being used to hire new faculty.

Current faculty resources:

DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY

Bruno Breitmeyer, Ph.D. (Cognitive Psychologist). Dr. Breitmeyer is a Professor in the Department of Psychology. For many years a major focus of Dr. Breitmeyer's research program has been on the role of parvocellular and magnocellular visual pathways in reading and reading disability.

David Francis, Ph.D. (Quantitative Psychologist/Clinical Neuropsychologist). Dr. Francis is a Professor in the Department of Psychology. His is especially interested in early reading acquisition in at risk children and neurobehavioral variability in hydrocephalus, spina bifida, and traumatic brain injury.

H. Julia Hannay, Ph.D. (Clinical Neuropsychologist/Child Psychologist). Dr. Hannay is Associate Chair and a Professor in the Department of Psychology. Dr. Hannay is interested in determining the role of dysmorphologies of the corpus callosum and other commissural structures in the cognitive, motor, and academic difficulties displayed by children with hydrocephalus and spina bifida as well as testing theories about the roles of various commissural structures in normal and abnormal brain development. Her other major interest is in TBI from prevention of secondary damage in the acute stages through outpatient rehabilitation.

Merrill Hiscock, Ph.D. (Clinical Child Neuropsychologist/Experimental Psychologist). Dr. Hiscock is a Professor in the Department of Psychology. He has a special interest in the cross-coupling of behavioral systems, e.g., interference between cognitive and manual activities; association between cognitive processes and eye movements.

Therese A. Kosten (Principal Investigator) Dr. Kosten is a Professor and Principal Investigator in the Department of Psychology.

J. Leigh Leasure, Ph.D. (Behavioral Neuroscientist). Dr. Leasure is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology. Her major research interests are cognitive and motor deficits after central nervous system injury, exercise & post-injury rehabilitation, and hippocampal neurogenesis.

Paul Massman, Ph.D. (Clinical Neuropsychologist) Dr. Massman is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology. His clinical interests include neuropsychology of neurodegenerative diseases: Alzheimer's disease, Vascular dementia, Movement disorders.

Paul T. Cirino, Ph.D. (Clinical Child Neuropsychologist) Dr. Cirino is a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology. His major interests include examination of components of cognitive performance, especially in the area of attention, working memory, and executive functions, development of math skills, learning disabilities and Tourette syndrome.

Arturo E. Hernandez, Ph.D. (Cognitive Neuroscientist) Dr. Hernandez is Director of the new Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Program, an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology and Director of Clinical Neuropsychology Training. His major research interest is in bilingual language processing and second language acquisition and application of fMRI to the investigation of language.

Jack M. Fletcher, Ph.D. (Clinical Child Neuropsychologist/Clinical Psychologist). Dr Fletcher is a University Distinguished Professor and a Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Psychology. Dr. Fletcher is particularly interested in understanding the neurobiological correlates of cognitive and academic difficulties of children with hydrocephalus, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, and brain injuries. He is particularly interested in the cognitive processes involved in reading and attention.

DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNICATION DISORDERS

Margaret Lehman Blake, Ph.D. (Speech Pathologist) Dr. Blake is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Disorders. Her research interests focus on language disorders due to stroke, primarily communication deficits associated with right hemisphere brain damage.

Lynn S. Bliss, Ph.D. (Speech Pathologist) Dr. Bliss is both the Department Chair and a Professor in the Department of Communication Disorders. Her research focuses on typical and impaired language development. She specializes in the narrative discourse of children with language impairments with different cultural backgrounds.

ADJUNCT FACULTY FROM THE TEXAS MEDICAL CENTER

Josh Breier, Ph.D. (Clinical Neuropsychologist). Dr. Breier is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Texas – Houston Health Sciences Center.

Lynn Chapieski, Ph.D. (Clinical Child Neuropsychologist/Developmental Psychologist). Dr. Chapieski is a neuropsychologist in the Blue Bird Circle Clinic at Texas Children's Hospital. Her major research interest is in the characteristics of epilepsy and the social reaction to epilepsy as they relate to the cognitive and behavioral problems of epileptic children.

Linda Ewing-Cobbs, Ph.D. (Clinical Child Neuropsychologist). Dr. Ewing-Cobbs is an Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Texas – Houston Health Sciences Center. Dr. Ewing-Cobbs employs paradigms from developmental and cognitive psychology to examine the influence of different types of acute brain injury and family environments on developmental outcomes. She is investigating such cognitive processes as executive function, social competence, discourse, attention, memory, and metacognitive skills.

Kevin Krull, Ph.D. (Clinical Child Neuropsychologist/ Clinical Psychologist). Dr. Krull is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology. Dr. Krull is investigating acquired and developmental disorders of attention and disinhibition. He is especially interestd in electrophysiological correlates of cognitive dysfunction with these developmental disorders.

Susan Landry, Ph.D. (Developmental Psychologist). Dr. Landry is a Professor of Pediatrics in the University of Texas – Houston Health Sciences Center. Her research program is focused on the early cognitive and social development of high-risk infants as well as children with autism and developmental disabilities.

Harvey S. Levin, Ph.D. (Clinical neuropsychologist/clinical psychologist). Dr. Levin is a Professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Levin investigates the cognitive functions associated with frontal lobe maturation and determining their neural correlates with imaging techniques.

Bartlett Moore, Ph.D. (Clinical child neuropsychologist). Dr. Moore is an Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Dr. Moore studies cognitive abilities of children with neurofibromatosis, leukemia, and brain tumors. He is particularly interested in the neural correlates of these disorders as measured by electrophysiology and imaging.

Andrew Papanicolau, Ph.D. (Experimental Psychologist). Dr. Papanicolau is a Professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Texas – Houston Health Sciences Center. Dr. Papanicolau is an expert on magnetoenncephaolgraphy and other neuroimaging techniques. He is applying such techiniqes to the localization and lateralization of various cognitive processes in normal children and adults as well as those with various neurodevelopmental and other disorders