FRHD 2280 Lecture Notes - Lecture 3: Prefrontal Cortex, Synaptic Pruning, Limbic System

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Lecture 3: Cognitive Foundations
- First assignment due next Friday instructions are already posted.
TED Talk: Sarah-Jayne Blakemore: The mysterious workings of the adolescent brain
Discussion of MRI, fMRI. This has changed how we view brain development. Doesn’t end in childhood.
Prefrontal cortex is one of the areas that changes most radically in adolescence. Lots of tasks including social
interactions, inhibiting inappropriate behaviour, etc. Grey matter increases to a peak in early adolescence and
then begins to significantly decline. This is a really important developmental process contains brain
connections (synapses) so the decline is thought to come from synaptic pruning, which actually strengthens
the wanted synapses. Her lab focuses on the “social brain” – those aspects which relate to understanding and
communicating with other people. Social emotions tend to be quite instinctive. We also tend to recognize social
emotions in others easily. Found activity in medial prefrontal cortex decreases in adolescence. Seems that adults
and adolescents use a different process for understanding social interactions. Takes longer for adolescents to
understand other’s perspectives or take them into account. Adolescence is likely not actually an invention of the
modern world several examples through history that describe people of this age in ways that fit our
understanding of adolescence. The limbic system is related to risk-taking and feeling rewarded form risk-taking.
Sensitivity is heightened in adolescence. So basically adolescents are hyper-rewarded by risk-taking in their
brain (because of the limbic system) and have little ability to inhibit those risks (because of the prefrontal
cortex). However, adolescents shouldn’t be stigmatized, because they actually have huge opportunity to learn
and a very malleable brain.
Jean Piaget’s Theory
One of the first theorists to step out of seeing children as just small adults. Children of different ages
think differently. Recent research shows that kids learn best through child-led/child-directed play. NOT through
repetition/memorization. Changes in cognitive development proceed in distinct stages. So there are limits
there is an extent to which you can learn based on your brain development, not further. Each person’s cognitive
abilities are organized into one coherent mental structure. His approach is known as the cognitive-development
approach. Piaget portrayed maturation as an active process, which is opposition to other theories that view the
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