Date: Wednesday, October 6, 2021
Speaker: Barbara Landau, Ph.D.
Affiliation: Dick and Lydia Todd Professor, Department of Cognitive Science, Johns Hopkins University
Host: Dr. Frederik Kamps
Abstract: One of the holy grails for developmental cognitive neuroscience is to understand the complex causal chain from gene to mind throughout development. At present, we are far from understanding this chain in detail. In this talk, I will argue that developmental timing can serve as a unifying mechanism to explain atypical cognitive profiles resulting from genetic impairment along with their relationship to typical developmental profiles. To illustrate, I will use the case of Williams syndrome—a genetic syndrome that gives rise to an unusual profile of severely impaired spatial representation together with spared language. A first-pass hypothesis about the cognitive phenotype emphasized the apparent dissociation of these two cognitive systems, suggesting that the genetic deficit targets one system while leaving the other intact. However, detailed studies of spatial representation and language in people with Williams syndrome, along with comparative studies of typically developing children, reveal a very different picture– one which suggests a mechanistic explanation using the lens of developmental timing. This picture radically changes the conversation about how and why genetic deficits result in atypical cognitive profiles.