The two main goals of the research that is conducted in the Brain and Education Lab are to understand the cognitive and neural systems that support the development of reading comprehension and other scholarly tasks in children, adolescents and adults, and to draw implications for intervention and other educational applications. To pursue these goals, lab members draw on theories and methods from developmental and cognitive psychology, educational science, and cognitive neuroscience. The lab's research is generously funded through funds from NWO and the US Institute for Education Sciences awarded to dr. van den Broek, and a start up grant from the LIBC awarded to dr. van Leijenhorst.

This basic interest drives the research in our lab leads to more specific questions such as:

  • What happens in the mind of good and struggling readers as they proceed through a text? Using behavioral tasks, eye-tracking devices to monitor eye movements, and think-aloud protocols, we try to gain insight into the cognitive processes that occur during reading and identify possible sources of reading difficulty. We conduct these studies both in the lab and in field settings such as schools.
  • How does brain development support our ability to comprehend and learn from texts? What neural systems mediate these changes with development, and does this change over time as children and adolescents develop an increasingly sophisticated representation of the content and meaning of texts? Little is known about the neural processes and structures involved in reading comprehension. We use neuroimaging techniques, such as fMRI, EEG, and MEG, to gain an understanding of the neural correlates of these functions across development.
  • In what way does the development of cognitive control functions (e.g. Working Memory, Attention) contribute to age related change in reading comprehension, as well as in other scholarly tasks such as math, and learning in general? We examine these questions using both behavioral and neuroimaging methods.
  • How can a computational approach be used to describe and disentangle the contributions of on-line comprehension processes during reading and off-line memory representations? We use The Landscape Model of Reading to try to simulate the cognitive processes that are involved in the comprehension of texts (for more information see the Landscape Model of Reading).
  • How do readers extract information from a text and in what way can we do to optimize reading comprehension? Central to comprehension of and learning from text is the process of constructing a coherent mental representation in which textual information and relevant background knowledge are integrated. This representation results in learning if it expands the reader’s existing knowledge network or if it corrects misconceptions in the reader’s network. The construction process is influenced by characteristics of the reader (e.g., working memory capacity, reading goal, prior knowledge, and inferential skills) and characteristics of the text (e.g. content/structure of the presented information, processing demands). Based on insights from the study of these processes we hope to contribute to the development of methods which can improve comprehension in readers.

 

Resources

Our lab has access to 128 channel EEG stations, an EyeLink 1000 eye tracking system, and to 1.5T and 3T MRI scanners, and a mock scanner located at the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC). The lab participates in the Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition (LIBC), and LIBC-junior network (LIBC-junior). The LIBC is an interfaculty center for interdisciplinary research on brain and cognition, supported by the LUMC and Leiden University's faculties of Social & Behavioral Sciences, Arts, and Mathematics & Natural Sciences. In our research we collaborate with local schools, and we have ongoing collaborations with the the University of Minnesota's Center for Cognitive Sciences which gives us access to additional MRI and EEG facilities as well as a MEG system.