Psychology 3440G-001

Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience

If there is a discrepancy between the outline posted below and the outline posted on the OWL course website, the latter shall prevail.


An introduction to the way in which genetic and experiential factors interactively contribute to the emergence of adaptive neural structures underlying visual processing, face perception, number processing, language, memory, and executive functions.


Prerequisites: Psychology 2820E or both Psychology 2800E and 2810, and one of Psychology 2040A/B, 2220A/B, 2221A/B, 2410A/B or Neuroscience 2000

3 lecture/seminar hours, 0.5 course


Unless you have either the prerequisites for this course or written special permission from your Dean to enrol in it, you may be removed from this course and it will be deleted from your record. This decision may not be appealed. You will receive no adjustment to your fees in the event that you are dropped from a course for failing to have the necessary prerequisites.


       Instructor: Rebecca Merkley                    

       Office and Phone Number:                      

       Office Hours:                                            



       Teaching Assistant: Zachary Hawes        


       Office Hours:                                            



            Time and Location of Classes: Tuesdays 9:30am-12:30pm

If you or someone you know is experiencing distress, there are several resources here at Western to assist you.  Please visit: for more information on these resources and on mental health.

Please contact the course instructor if you require material in an alternate format or if you require any other arrangements to make this course more accessible to you. You may also wish to contact Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) at 519-661-2111 ext 82147 for any specific question regarding an accommodation.


The readings will mostly be recently published, peer-reviewed journal articles and some recent news articles and blog posts related to developmental cognitive neuroscience. The required readings are mandatory and it is important that you do these so that you can participate in class discussion. You will be expected to come up with one discussion question based on the readings each week. The suggested readings are recommended if you choose to present or write a paper on one of these topics, or if you’re simply interested in learning more about a particular topic. The readings can be found on the OWL website for the course, or by following the links. If you have difficulties accessing the materials or if you find that materials are missing from the website, please contact the instructor 


This course provides an introduction to the theoretical, methodological, and empirical foundations of the field of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience.


By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Describe concepts in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Compare and contrast evidence reported in scholarly research papers
  • Locate and critically evaluate scholarly research in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience and consider implications of the findings



Assignment Summary:

Attendance and Participation (20%)

Midterm Paper (25%)

Presentation and Discussion Leader (25%)

Final Paper (30%)


PLEASE NOTE:  Because this is an essay course, as per Senate Regulations (, you must pass the essay component to pass the course. That is, the average mark for your written assignments must be at least 50%.

Participation: This course depends on your active participation in class discussions. You must attend class and prepare by doing the assigned reading. Following each class, you will be required to submit a discussion question via a form. Participation marks will be deducted for failing to attend class without a valid excuse, and for failing to submit a discussion question.


Presentation and Discussion Leader: During the first week of term, you must sign up for a presentation date and topic here:

Presentations will be done in groups of 2, and there may need to be a few groups of 3. Each week’s presentations will relate to a discussion question and presentations will highlight differing perspectives on the question. Please e-mail the course instructor for guidance on which research paper(s) to present on. You will be required to give a 15-minute visual presentation (using either PowerPoint or Overhead Projector). You should review BOTH the literature assigned AND other relevant literature that you have found through independent literature searches. Following your presentation you are required to lead the discussion of the papers you have reviewed.

Your presentation should cover the following four points for papers:

1) motivation (why the study was undertaken)
2) methods (genetics, physiology, anatomy, behavior, etc)
3) major results (synopsis of key figure panels only)
4) missed opportunities (was the initial hypothesis fully addressed, possible future directions, etc)

5) implications (how do the findings relate to the discussion topic)


Midterm Paper: The purpose of this assignment is to give you the opportunity to write a short paper on one of the discussion topics. You must choose a different topic from the one you are presenting on. You are required to write a paper of no more than 5 pages (1.5 spaced, 12pt. font). In your paper you should not merely rely on the class readings, but go beyond them and do your own independent literature searches. We will have a peer-review writing session in class on Tuesday, February 13th, so be sure to have an outline of your paper by then. The Midterm Paper is due at 5pm via OWL on Tuesday, February 27th.


Final Paper: You are required to write a final paper of no more than 7 pages (1.5 spaced, 12pt font) that extends your thinking about one of the discussion topics by critically reviewing evidence from multiple sources. You should choose the topic for your final paper from the topics within the syllabus and generate a question. You are strongly encouraged to discuss the topic of your final paper with the instructor or teaching assistant. The purpose is of this assignment is to see how your thinking about one of these topics may have changed over the course. In particular, your paper should extend the discussion of your chosen by topic by outlining future research directions to generate new evidence to inform the debate. You may also consider the practical and applied implications of the question you choose. We will have a peer-review writing session in class on Tuesday, April 3rd, so be sure to have an outline of your paper by then. The Final Paper is due at 5pm via OWL on Tuesday, April 10th.

Although the Psychology Department does not require instructors to adjust their course grades to conform to specific targets, the expectation is that course marks will be distributed around the following averages:

70%     1000-level and 2000-level courses
72%     2190-2990 level courses
75%     3000-level courses
80%     4000-level courses
The Psychology Department follows the University of Western Ontario grading guidelines, which are as follows (see ):

A+  90-100      One could scarcely expect better from a student at this level
A    80-89        Superior work that is clearly above average
B    70-79        Good work, meeting all requirements, and eminently satisfactory
C    60-69        Competent work, meeting requirements
D    50-59        Fair work, minimally acceptable
F    below 50    Fail


Midterm Paper: Due Tuesday, February 27th

Final Paper: Due Tuesday, April 10th


January 9th: Introduction and Course Overview

Suggested viewing:


January 16th: Theoretical Perspectives

Discussion topic: Are we born with core knowledge of how the world works?


Required reading:

(Stahl & Feigenson, 2015)

(Schulz, 2015)


Suggested reading and viewing:

(Karmiloff-Smith, 2015)


January 23rd: Research Methods

Discussion topic: Are there critical periods in human development?


Required reading:

(Werker & Hensch, 2015)

(Fox, Levitt, & Nelson, 2010)


Suggested reading:

(Hensch, 2005)


January 30th: Brain Development

Discussion topic: Is screen time detrimental to child development?


Required reading:

(Johnson, 2001)

(Gopnik, Griffiths & Lucas, 2015)


Suggested reading:

(Cheung et al., 2017)


February 6th: Genetics

Guest Lecture: Moriah Sokolowski

Discussion topic: What are the pros and cons of different methods of investigating the influence of genes on human development?


Required reading:

(Charney, 2017)

(Sokolowski et al., 2017)


Suggested reading:

(Meaney, 2010)


February 13th: Language Development

Peer Review Writing Session

Discussion topic: Is there a cognitive advantage to being bilingual?


Required reading:

(Pallier et al., 2003)

(Morton & Harper, 2007)

(Bialystok, 2009)


Suggested reading:

(Bowers et al., 2009)



February 20th: READING WEEK


February 27th: Executive Function Development

Midterm Paper Due

Discussion topic: Can training executive functions transfer to other cognitive skills?

(Spencer-Smith & Klingberg, 2015)

(Melby-Lervag Redick & Hulme, 2016)


Suggested reading:


March 6th: Mathematical Development

Discussion topic: Are men better suited to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers than women are?


Required reading:

(Fine et al., 2017)

(Hutchison et al., in press)


Suggested reading:



March 13th: Social Development

Discussion topic:  Do mirror neurons understand the goals of others?


Required reading:

(Heyes, 2010)

(Marshall & Meltzoff, 2014)


Suggested reading and viewing:

(Rizzolatti & Fabbri-Destro, 2010)


March 20th: Atypical Development

Guest Lecture: Dr. Lien Peters

Discussion topic: Can studying atypically developing children inform our understanding of typical development?


Required reading:

(Karmiloff-Smith, 2008)

(Butterworth & Kovas, 2013)


March 27th: Adolescent Development

Discussion topic: Should adolescents be tried as adults?


Required reading:

(Cohen et al., 2016)

(Casey et al., 2017)


Suggested viewing:


April 3rd:  Applied Topics in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience

Peer Review Writing Session


Required reading:

(Creel et al., 2017)


April 10th: Students’ Choice

Final Paper Due

To be determined


Students are responsible for understanding the nature and avoiding the occurrence of plagiarism and other scholastic offenses. Plagiarism and cheating are considered very serious offenses because they undermine the integrity of research and education. Actions constituting a scholastic offense are described at the following link:

As of Sept. 1, 2009, the Department of Psychology will take the following steps to detect scholastic offenses. All multiple-choice tests and exams will be checked for similarities in the pattern of responses using reliable software, and records will be made of student seating locations in all tests and exams. All written assignments will be submitted to TurnItIn, a service designed to detect and deter plagiarism by comparing written material to over 5 billion pages of content located on the Internet or in TurnItIn’s databases. All papers submitted for such checking will be included as source documents in the reference database for the purpose of detecting plagiarism of papers subsequently submitted to the system. Use of the service is subject to the licensing agreement, currently between Western and

Possible penalties for a scholastic offense include failure of the assignment, failure of the course, suspension from the University, and expulsion from the University.


Western’s policy on Accommodation for Medical Illness can be found at: 

Students must see the Academic Counsellor and submit all required documentation in order to be approved for certain accommodation:


Office of the Registrar web site:

Student Development Services web site:

Please see the Psychology Undergraduate web site for information on the following:

- Policy on Cheating and Academic Misconduct
- Procedures for Appealing Academic Evaluations
- Policy on Attendance
- Policy Regarding Makeup Exams and Extensions of Deadlines
- Policy for Assignments
- Short Absences
- Extended Absences
- Documentation
- Academic Concerns
- 2017 Calendar References

No electronic devices, including cell phones and smart watches, will be allowed during exams.