fMRI scan of a parent with their child

Why Study the Developing Brain?

How much is universal, shared by all humans, and how much is specific and unique to each individual? How do learning and experience change how our brains work and who we are? Is there something we could see in a brain image that would be the earliest sign of a problem like autism, or dyslexia, or depression? Can we use this research to understand why human babies are so resilient to some kinds of trauma and so vulnerable to others?

These are the sorts of big picture questions that motivate developmental neuroscientists like us to come to work in the morning. Individual experiments tend to expand our knowledge a little bit at a time, and they sometimes fail (especially when you're asking a baby to sit still!). Together, though, they will allow us to build an understanding of ourselves and the ability to help. Hear and read more about what our lab is up to at the links below.

Articles about our work:

Baby looking at fMRI scan. Photo by Caitlin Cunningham
Tue, 01/10/2017
Is the brain a blank slate, or is it wired from birth to understand the world? An ambitious new study put infants into an MRI machine to reveal a neural organization similar to that of adults. Rebecca Saxe’s first son, Arthur, was just a month old when he first entered the bore of an MRI machine to...
Rebecca Saxe greets an infant subject. Photo by Caitlin Cunningham.
Mon, 12/12/2016
Mothers often speak with a sense of wonder about seeing their new baby’s face for the first time. For McGovern Associate Investigator Rebecca Saxe, an even more wondrous moment came when she first saw her baby’s brain. “I thought, wow, that will be my baby’s mind and my baby’s self,” she says. Saxe...
Scientists reconfigured a magnetic resonance scanner to capture a woman and her baby. (Rebecca Saxe and Atsushi Takahashi / Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, MIT / Athinoula A. Martinos Imaging Center at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, MIT)
Tue, 12/01/2015
A venerable symbol of human love, as you’ve never seen it before. A mother and her child are curled up together inside the tube of a 3 Tesla magnetic resonance imaging scanner in April 2015. The scanner bangs and beeps, shudders and screeches. The baby is finally sleeping, pressed firmly against...
An MRI scan of the brain. People who lose sight in adulthood, even for decades, don’t recruit the visual cortex as heavily as those who are born blind. Photograph: Daisy-Daisy/Alamy
Wed, 08/19/2015
Findings that highlight how brain’s ‘plasticity’ allows congenitally blind and sighted children to adapt to sensory experiences could inform future treatments. Parts of the brain once thought to be primarily devoted to processing vision can be recruited by blind children as young...