The human brain undergoes significant structural and functional changes throughout the lifespan. Yet the brain development is not the same for everyone. There are considerable individual differences. For example, researchers have long considered that the brains of gifted children develop differently from those of other children. How do these children differ from other children in brain development? There are also gender differences in behavioral as well as brain measures especially during puberty/adolescence. In addition, the onset of puberty sometimes coincides with the transition from elementary to secondary schools, which may make the school transition particularly challenging for some children. In our research, we address such individual differences in brain developments using psychological experiments, hormone assays and neuroimaging techniques.
The importance of education is not limited to children. Given the increased life expectancy, lifelong learning for older adults has become more important than ever. When we think about old age, we tend to focus on negative aspects of aging (e.g., loss of physical health, cognitive abilities, and social connection). But increasing research has pointed to the adaptive effects of aging. For example, while younger adults remember more negative than positive information, older adults tend to pay attention to and remember more positive information because they focus on emotional goals. Enriched knowledge and experience with age may also help older adults’ learning to experience enjoyment and pleasure while learning even more than children and younger adults. We aim to understand these diverse effects of aging on processes relevant to learning—from the brain to emotional wellbeing.
People often believe that positive emotions are better than negative emotions for students learning. But empirical research has provided a more complex picture, such that positive emotions cannot be always beneficial for students’ learning. Likewise, negative emotions can be sometimes beneficial for students’ achievement. When and how can negative emotions facilitate learning despite their general negative impacts? How similarly do positive and negative emotions affect learning? Answers to these questions are critical to understanding how best to facilitate students’ emotions in an educational setting. In our research, we aim to provide insights into these questions by examining the effects of emotions on each of the cognitive processes critical for students’ learning, including perception, attention, memory encoding, memory consolidation, goal setting, and problem solving. To understand the underlying mechanisms of the complex effects of emotions, we use a range of methods, including behavioral experiments, physiological assessments, computational modelling, neuroimaging and longitudinal surveys.