Cathodal Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation of Prefrontal Cortex: Examining Effects on Causal Learning

Bridget MacDonald : Cognitive Science

Mentor: Alison Gopnik, Psychology & Rich Ivry, Psychology

Children acquire complex knowledge about the world despite severely limited evidence available to them. While both children and adults use learned biases as a useful learning mechanism, children’s relatively small amount of prior knowledge results in fewer constraints on their hypothesis space as well as more open-minded approaches when considering possible causal relations. The prefrontal cortex of the brain is home to most “executive” functions that govern learning, yet the frontal lobes are the last area of the brain to fully develop. The eventual maturation of the prefrontal cortex builds and prunes neuronal synapses based on experience in an individual’s life, thus constraining the hypothesis space of adult learners. Bridget’s research uses neurostimulation (tDCS) to lower activity in the prefrontal cortex of adults while they participate in a cognitive learning task to investigate whether this will reduce the biases of adults, allowing them to be more open-minded learners.