Expertise, Development & Neural Plasticity

This research groups investigates broad developmental issues related to expertise training and human learning, among children and adult populations.  The research domains include perceptual, cognitive, and motoric processes, as well as social issues such as Theory of Mind, autism, dyslexia, among others. We conduct behavioural experiments and observational studies, and employ a variety of research technologies, such as eye-trackers, non-invasive brain stimulation techniques (TMS, tDCS), braining imaging (fMRI, TDI), and computational modelling.

Examples of research

Hierarchical Control of Complex Skills: Dr Motonori Yamaguchi has been investigating the cognitive processes that underlie the control of complex skills, such as typewriting. The research program is grounded on the idea that hierarchically structured cognitive processes divide the labours of a task, whereby the higher-level control operates based on a global task goal (e.g., writing an email) and the lower-level control operates based on a local goal (e.g., pressing a key). This division of labour allows fast and accurate implementations of highly trained skills. The current research program explores how such a hierarchical structure emerges through training, and what learning mechanism supports the development of the control processes.

Eye Movements of Experts: Dr Damien Litchfield has been primarily investigating how eye movements change and become more efficient as a function of domain-specific expertise. Particular focus has been on visual expertise in medical image perception and using eye-tracking methodology to establish the visual and cognitive mechanisms that underpin why abnormalities such as cancer are still missed in medical image perception. The current research employs gaze-contingent paradigms to explore how eye movements are guided from the first glimpse of a scene and how experience in particular real-world tasks improve visual search (e.g., comparing medical image perception with everyday scene perception). This research program also examines whether such ‘expert’ eye movement patterns are a useful learning cue for novice observers, and if knowing where another person looks may help guide search and performance in real-world tasks.

Child Development: Dr Martin McPhillips predominantly focuses on the motor development of children and young adults with a range of developmental difficulties, including dyslexia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, deafness, autism and developmental coordination disorder. Some of the work is lab-based, while other work is field-based with an emphasis on developing motor interventions for children and adults with learning and/or social and emotional problems. From this work, the ‘Primary Movement’ intervention programme has been devised, which is now used in many schools across the UK, Ireland and Western Australia.

How autistic individuals make predictions: Dr Themis Karaminis current work focuses on the social interaction and communication profiles of autistic individuals, and especially autistic children. This research examines how autistic individuals use knowledge accrued from their recent experiences (‘prior knowledge’) to predict what is in the environment. The project “‘I predict therefore I am!‘: The predictive social mind, prior knowledge and autism” is funded by Edge Hill University’s Research Investment Fund and consists studies based on child-friendly ‘computer-games’ and eye-tracking and computational modelling techniques.

Get involved!

For more information about our research and to get involved in current research, please contact a member of our team.