EP1: Working memory and executive functions in development and disorder

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge

Abstract

This programme investigates high-level cognitive abilities that have a significant practical aspect of our everyday lives, and that are frequently impaired during development in childhood and later life through age- and disease-related changes in the brain. One focus is on the cognitive and brain mechanisms of working memory, the system that provides temporary storage of information needed to guide us through our ongoing cognitive activities. We are interested in particular in how these systems change with intensive training, which has the potential to identify ways of improving the cognitive functioning of individuals with low memory capacities. A second project investigates the underlying cognitive and biological causes of children’s difficulties in attention, learning and memory, and in particular how common problems may be present in individuals with different diagnoses. Understanding how best to diagnose learning difficulties provides new opportunities to identify the best ways to help overcome common problems in learning in childhood.

Technical Summary

This programme investigates the mechanisms that underpin working memory and executive functions with the aim of developing theoretical understanding of typical cognition, and also how these mechanisms may be disrupted and may be ameliorated in developmental disorders. There are two main components to the programme.

The first component focuses on the cognitive and neural mechanisms of working memory in typical adults, with a particular focus on how intensive training can modify these mechanisms. Current projects compare different kinds of training in short-term and working memory with the aim of discovering the processes underpinning transfer to untrained tasks. Methods including brain simulation and neuroimaging are being employed to illuminate the neurological processes underpinning any training-related changes in behaviour.

The second component is a cross-programme collaboration with Astle and Manly investigating the cognitive and neural mechanisms of developmental difficulties of attention, learning and memory. Recruitment takes place through a new research clinic established at the Centre for Attention, Learning and Memory (CALM), which aims to discover the core dimensions of impairment common to children with multiple developmental problems including ADHD, dyslexia and dyscalculia. MRI testing and DNA collection provides the basis for neuroimaging and genetic analysis of these children, who are also recruited for participation in intervention studies designed to improve learning outcomes.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Science Day - Internal 31 October 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The purpose of science day is to engage the whole Unit with current work and research projects that are currently being carried out at the CBU. One person from each group gave a talk. The day is open to all internal staff and this year, with the transfer to the University, the Dept of Psychology and Dept of Psychiatry were also invited.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Assoc. of Technical Staff in Psychology (ATSiP) Workshop - 11 December 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The workshop was on physiological measurements facilitated by Linton Instruments who sell BIOPAC.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Bellerby's School visit - 22 January 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Approx. 20 students visited the unit to listen to talks from CBU scientists on various topics. They also had a career advice session and visited the mock MRI and MEG scanners.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description CALM Practitioners Workshop - June 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A one-day event, including a series of presentations from reseachers and discussion sessions on the theme, "Learning, cognition and behaviour in the CALM sample: the story so far" was held at the MRC CBU for practitioners involved or interested in CALM (Centre for Attention, Language and Memory) from the region.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://calm.mrc-cbu.cam.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/CALM-workshop-2018-programme-1.pdf
 
Description Cambridge Graduate Seminar Series 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact As full members of the Cambridge Graduate Programme in Cognitive and Brain Sciences, the CBU often hosts and provides speakers for the Graduate Seminar Series. This series of weekly lectures during Michaelmas & Lent Terms is given by specialists within the CBU and Cambridge University, on a range of theoretical topics relevant to the PhD candidates in Cambridge Graduate Programme in Cognitive and Brain Sciences (jointly established by the Unit and the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016,2017,2018
 
Description Cambridge Science Festival - Science night - 14 March 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The open evening at the Cognition & Brain Sciences Unit allows the general public to explorie our research in psychology and neuroscience through practical hands-on activities and experiments. There are also short talks from our scientists about work currently being carried out.
The purpose of the event is to showcase the great work the unit carried out and to encourage the visitors to get involved with our research in many ways, including volunteering, or to help younger generation with career opportunities. It also helps the public understand more about neuroscience and the brain for their own personal encounters and give an opportunity for them to find out how and where help is available.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Chaucer Club Lectures 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Chaucer Club is a series of talks by invited speakers, often from outside the CBU. It is a weekly event during University term time, attended by members of CBU, but open to the general public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity Pre-2006,2006,2007,2008,2009,2010,2011,2012,2013,2014,2015,2016,2017,2018
 
Description Continuing Professional Development event linked to EEF research schools network 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Focus group with teachers involved in the EEF research schools network. I provided advice on research design and they took away clear ideas about how to design school-based research studies
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Keynote at international conference for practitioners 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Keynote at the Better Learning Conference hosted by Cambridge University Press. Approximately 250 teachers, psychologists, speech and language therapists and assessment tool developers attended to hear about ways to support struggling learners. They reported taking away new ideas about assessment and identification of children's learning needs.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Keynote at international practitioner conference in Australia 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Keynote at the Beyond Working Memory Conference, Melbourne Australia, 24th October 2018. Attended by approximately 300 practitioners who took away a new understanding about children's classroom related learning problems, and ideas about how to support these children at school.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Keynote for practitioner event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Keynote talk at the Annual Thinking Skills conference - a meeting of 200 teachers, psychologists and special needs support workers. The audience reported that they could take away practical skills to implement in their practice
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description MRC Festival of Medical Research - Unit Open Day 16 June 2018. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact As part of the MRC Festival of Medical Research, CBU put on a Unit open day on Saturday 16 June. The open day included various talks from our scientists throughout the day and hands on demonstrations and activities for both adults and children. A marquee set up in the garden hosting brain related games for children and refreshments. MRI and MEG lab tours were held throughout the day. 134 members of the public attended. This was monitored via welcome stickers and a number count on arrival. All tours were fully booked and talks well attended. 40 members of staff volunteered throughout the day.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Professional practitioner conference in Australia 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Keynote at the Beyond Working Memory Conference, Perth, Australia, 26th October 2018. Attended by approximately 300 practitioners who took away a new understanding about children's classroom related learning problems, and ideas about how to support these children at school.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Psychiatry Workshop Computational Methods & Theories - 13 March 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This event was organised by the Psychiatry department but hosted at the MRC CBU. The aim of this event is to promote computational methods and theories in psychiatry and integrate expertise in Cambridge.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description School engagement conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Conference for teachers participating in the Born in Bradford study. Talks by experts for professionals. Sparked debate about current issues in identifying children needing support
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Summer garden party - 10 July 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The purpose of the event is to bring everyone together during the summer and various external people who contribute/ have previously worked at the unit.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Teacher professional training day 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Half day workshop for teachers attending an SpLD outreach service training day. Practical workshop and talk about how to support struggling learners. Audience took away new ways to think about how to best support children who are struggling in the classroom.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description University welcome event - 15 July 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This event was organised by the Clinical School and CBU to get everyone together as a thank you following the successful transfer to the University. It was a chance for the CBU to meet and have a speech from the Reguis at the Clinical School. The event was open to everyone internally.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Villiers School Visit - May 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Approx. 20 students visited the unit to listen to talks from CBU scientists on different topics. They also had a career advice session and visited the mock MRI and MEG scanners.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Villiers School visit on 19 September 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Approx. 20 students visited the unit to listen to talks from CBU scientists on different topics. They also had a career advice session and visited the mock MRI and MEG scanners.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Wednesday Lunchtime Seminar series 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The WLTS is held weekly during University term-time and is open to all. The format is a talk, usually presenting the background and data of a body of work, usually by researchers within the CBU and their collaborators. Discussion follows.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2006,2007,2008,2009,2010,2011,2012,2013,2014,2015,2016,2017,2018