Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and
Human Development (NICHD) Scientific Vision
Cognition Workshop
Bethesda, MD
March 14-15, 2011

Views expressed in the workshop presentations are those of the
presenters alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the NICHD.

Cognition loosely refers to the ability to think and communicate. The extent to which cognition develops in modern humans as a result of decades of teaching and learning is unparalleled. This development does not occur independently from the body. It requires the orchestration of genetically guided biological substrates interacting with the environment, and it corresponds with remarkable changes in brain structure and function. Unfortunately, cognitive development does not always proceed to its desired end state. When disorders in development occur, the consequences can range from mild to profoundly debilitating. Although we know much more about the development of cognition than we did a decade ago, at best we have made a very small scratch on a very large surface. Our task is to identify the most promising opportunities to advance our understanding of cognition that are likely to be realized over the next decade.

This workshop will address key issues in the domain of cognition that should be priorities for research over the next decade because of their impact on research and practice. The focus is on cognition and the development of cognition, from conception through adulthood, which means that the dynamic nature of change during childhood must be a cornerstone for any research program. It is conditioned on a view that optimizing developmental outcomes for children involves a range of research that begins with theory and the mapping of typical developmental trajectories in multiple domains of inquiry; the use of this research to develop models of typical and atypical development that integrate mechanisms derived across domains involving genes, brain, and environment; and the development of informative strategies to improve function and outcomes. To facilitate the identification of key areas likely to have the greatest impact, the workshop will begin with a morning session involving five presentations in major research domains to provide a starting point for small group discussions that will address the following issues:

What are the compelling scientific research opportunities related to cognition in the next 10 years? 

To exploit these opportunities:

  1. What basic, clinical, and translational questions must be answered along the way?
  2. What, if any, research tools, methods, or approaches must be developed?
  3. What, if any, training and other workforce development activities should be pursued?
  4. For each opportunity identified, what is the potential impact on public health, both here and worldwide?


8:00 a.m. Breakfast
8:30 a.m. Welcome/NICHD Visioning Process
Alan Guttmacher, M.D.
Director, NICHD

Overview of the Agenda and Workshop Charge
Rick Wagner, Ph.D.,
Florida State Universityand
Joseph Piven, M.D.
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

9:00 a.m.

Plenary Sessions

The purpose of these sessions is to educate participants (from disciplines outside those of the speakers) on key advances in the field in an effort to inform participants from other disciplines of the current state of the science. The aim of these presentations is not to provide a vision statement from each of the speakers. Speakers are asked to provide nontechnical reviews of the breadth of their fields, with the aim of educating those outside their fields about the major advances in their discipline(s) over the past 10–20 years. This format will provide a platform for moving the discussion forward to explore a vision for the future. 

9:00 a.m.

Overview of Typical and Atypical Cognitive Development (Birth Through Young Adult) (PDF - 893 KB)
Charles A. Nelson, Ph.D.
Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, and
Richard David Scott Chair in Pediatric Developmental
Medicine Research, Children's Hospital Boston

9:30 a.m.

Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology of Cognition
Alcino Silva, Ph.D.
Professor of Neurobiology, Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences and Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and Director, Center for Genetic Studies of Cortical Plasticity, UCLA

10:00 a.m.

Clinical Genetics and Cognition
Matthew State, M.D., Ph.D.
Harris Associate Professor of Child Psychiatry and Genetics,
Yale Program on Neurogenetics, Yale University

10:30 a.m.


10:45 a.m.

Brain Systems and Neural Correlates of Cognition
Beatriz Luna, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry,
School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh

11:15 a.m.

Intervention/Translational Research on Cognition (PDF - 323 KB)
Jack Fletcher, Ph.D.
Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Houston

11:50 a.m.


12:30 p.m.

Generating the List of Key Scientific Opportunities

Small Groups I

Participants will be divided into small groups. Groups will be interdisciplinary and will not be defined on the basis of a single research theme, method, or discipline. The aim of these small group meetings will be to identify the most promising opportunities of the next decade in the areas of broadly defined cognition. Groups will be encouraged to think across traditional disciplinary boundaries to identify ambitious yet achievable opportunities. Group leaders will encourage participation from all members of the group. The goal of the session will be to compile a list of the major ideas. Group leaders will facilitate the compilation of the lists and will present the ideas to the larger group in the subsequent large group session.

2:30 p.m.


2:45 p.m.

Report by Small Group Leaders to the Large Group

The aim of this large group session is to communicate to the larger group the ideas that were generated by each small group and to compile a list of all the ideas.

3:45 p.m.

Large Group Discussion

This large group session will aim to identify important themes, areas of overlap, and gaps. The goal is to organize the ideas generated by the small groups for tomorrow’s sessions.

6:00 p.m.

Working Dinner

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7:45 a.m. Breakfast

8:15 a.m.

Review of Agenda

8:30 a.m.

Developing Scientific Opportunities

Small Groups II

The aim of these small group meetings is to flesh out the promising scientific opportunities in greater detail, building upon the framework developed at the working dinner. The small groups will want to complete their answers to the questions posed for each scientific opportunity as outlined above.

10:30 a.m.


10:45 a.m.

Presentation of the Results of Small Group Discussion by Group Leaders II to the Large Group

The goal of this session will be to present the results of the work of the small groups in developing promising scientific opportunities in greater detail.

12:30 p.m.


2:00 p.m.

Large Group Discussion II

The goal of this discussion is to review the results produced by the group in order to critique the work of the participants for completeness, feasibility and potential importance, and whether or not the main aspects of these ideas have been fully articulated in the discussion.

4:00 p.m.


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Last Reviewed: 04/04/2011