(provided by the applicant): The proposed Training Program will train predoctoral students in the mechanisms of learning across development and species. Learning is fundamental to adaptive behavior. It involves acquiring and modifying information, behaviors, and skills. Learning also is productive: it extends itself through induction, deduction, and integration. Mechanisms of learning is a critical area to target for predoctoral research training because learning has pervasive impacts in both adaptive and maladaptive behavior, and must be an integral part of any successful mental health or educational intervention. The Training Faculty is drawn from the Department of Psychology, the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, and the interdisciplinary Neuroscience Graduate Program, all of Emory University. The primary training sites are the Department of Psychology and the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. The 16- member Training Faculty approach study of the mechanisms of learning as they manifest from birth to old age in healthy and clinical populations using genetic, comparative, computational, developmental, neurobiological, and neuropsychological techniques. They examine how changes in the brain during infancy and childhood relate to developmental changes in learning, how the elderly adapt with their aging brains, and how diverse species acquire and modify knowledge ranging from simple associations to culturally-mediated rituals and traditions. The diversity of ages, species, and circumstances in which learning mechanisms are studied at Emory provides rich opportunities for accumulation of converging evidence about these mechanisms, and thus for equipping the next generation of scientists with the skills necessary for understanding basic mechanisms of learning. The training site affords a uniquely well- suited environment in which to accomplish one of the goals of the NIH-to unite the study of developmental change from infancy to senescence with the study of adult cognition within a neurobiological framework. We request four predoctoral trainees per year, each of whom will be trained for 3 years. Trainees will be drawn from among students in Emory's highly-selective Laney Graduate School. Trainees will complete all departmental or program requirements for the Ph.D. This training program will provide added value through at least five training enhancements: 1) explicit co-mentoring and collaborative research experiences across species, ages or methodologies;2) intensive training in grant writing, 3) advanced training in ethics and the responsible conduct of research;4) participation in courses, workshops and research fairs specific to research on learning across development and species;and 5) application of empirically supported best practices in graduate student training.
The study of mechanisms of learning across development and species is essential for understanding basic cognitive processes and function. It also will provide the necessary knowledge for intervention in clinical contexts, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in which learning is centrally implicated, and educational contexts, in which learning obviously is fundamental. We stand to gain significant leverage by better integrating the neurobiological and behavioral bases of learning across phylogeny and ontogeny.
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