The Spatial Cognitive Development and Evolution group at the Center for Mind/Brain Sciences, University of Trento consists of researchers interested in the behavioral and neural correlates of spatial computation, navigation, memory, and communication. We study these cognitive domains across several related areas:
Development: We conduct research with children from ages 1 - 12, tracking the development of their spatial abilities in order to understand how we humans come to possess abstract spatial concepts, such as Euclidean geometry. Moreover, we investigate memory for faces, objects and scenes, episodic memory and communication abilities. By designing studies in the form of short, simple child-friendly games (such as hide-and-seek, recognition task), we can gain insight as to how spatial mapping develops in even very young toddlers. (If you would like to learn more about our ongoing studies and have your child participate in the advancement of cognitive science, please sign up here!)
Cognitive Impairment: We are also interested in studying the specific memory and communication profile of Williams Syndrome, in comparison to other developmental disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder. Understanding specific behavioral profiles will also allow us to make hypothesis on the brain functioning associated with the observed behavioral patterns.
Neural Correlates of Behavior: Because decades of research have shown that many spatial representations are specialized in their neural processing, it is possible to investigate which specific areas of the brain are associated with each specific type of spatial task. For example, we are interested in teasing apart the neural correlates of self-motion tracking (path integration) and environmental mapping.
Comparative Behavior and Neuroscience: Because the main area of the brain involved in spatial cognition, called the Hippocampal Formation, is evolutionarily ancient and conserved across distantly related species, we study animal models to address questions about the developmental, neural, and genetic bases of spatial abilities. We are currently conducting experiments on domestic chicks, zebrafish, and various rodent models, including mouse models of Williams Syndrome.