Changes in Brain Function

I have been very interested in how modern brain imaging technologies can teach us things about how children learn and how they struggle to learn and so that’s how I’ve been interested for a while. And then I learned in reading the scientific literature about the work of Tallal and Merzenich that underlies Fast ForWord and scientific learning. I was so impressed by their neuron scientific approach that they had taken to developing this program. I thought it would have been natural to see how the program actually alters children’s brains to go through it.

We looked at these children before they did Fast ForWord. They did Fast ForWord and then we looked at their brain again afterwards and tried to see if they were any changes in brain functions.

The two biggest things that we are following;

First, some part of the brain that children are normally engaged to read were not activated to start within the poor readers and those were now activated, so we saw some part of the brain become normalized to show the activity expecting good readers.

The second, we saw which was perhaps less expected was that many other part of the brain, there are not typically engaged in reading were also turned on as a consequence of the training program.

We are terribly excited by the interaction between education and science. Education is such a struggle in this country and so important for the children. And many scientific methods have not yet been unleashed, you know in a way that is useful for education.

And so that is one of the most exciting things about Fast ForWord, it’s that it’s trying to bridge the gap between science and education. Have education inform the science and science inform the education.

Phonics Bulletin - Fast ForWord

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John D. E. Gabrieli, Ph.D.
Grover Hermann Professor in Health Sciences and Technology and Cognitive Neuroscience

Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology

Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience

We seek to understand the organization of memory, thought, and emotion in the human brain. We want to discover how the healthy brain supports human capacities, such as hippocampal support for declarative memory, amygdala support for emotional memory, and prefrontal cortical support for working memory. We also study how experience alters functional brain organization (brain plasticity). We aim to understand principles of brain organization that are consistent across individuals, and those that vary across people due to age, personality, and other dimensions of individuality. Therefore, we examine brain-behavior relations across the life span, from children through the elderly. We are also interested in learning how disadvantageous variations in brain structure and function underlie diseases and disorders, and have studied developmental disorders (dyslexia, ADHD, autism), age-related disorders (Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease), and psychiatric disorders (depression, social phobia, schizophrenia). Further, we want to understand how potential behavioral or pharmacologic treatments alter brain function when they are therapeutically effective.

Our primary methods are brain imaging (functional and structural), and the experimental behavioral study of patients with brain injuries. The majority of our studies involve functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), but we also employ other brain measures as needed to address scientific questions, including diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), MRI structural volumes, and voxel-based morphometry (VBM).

Much of our research occurs in the Martinos Imaging Center at the McGovern Institute, MIT, which is affiliated with the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging . The Martinos centers are a collaboration among the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST), the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Massachusetts General Hospital , and Harvard Medical School . Our affiliations with these outstanding research institutions promote the opportunity for cutting-edge basic cognitive neuroscience research and translation from basic science to clinical application.