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Developmental psychologists and neuroscientists used to know little of one anothers work. A model system for studying the role of dopamine in prefrontal cortex during early development in humans.
As a graduate student, Diamond realized that for 50 years developmental psychologists and neuroscientists had been using essentially the same behavioral task without knowing it.
Diamond hypothesized that at least part of the answer was increasing levels of dopamine in PFC. Researchers and clinicians working on inborn errors of metabolism had noticed that children well-treated for phenylketonuria (PKU) seemed to show selective EF deficits, but no one could imagine a mechanism that could explain that, so reports of such deficits were largely ignored. Normal development of prefrontal cortex from birth to young adulthood: Cognitive functions, anatomy, and biochemistry.
But how to study the role of dopamine in modulating PFC cognitive functions (executive functions [EFs]) in humans early in life? Neuropharmacologists studying the mesocortical dopamine system in rats had shown that if there is only a modest reduction in the dopamine precursor, tyrosine, PFC is selectively affected. Conditions under which young children CAN hold two rules in mind and inhibit a prepotent response. doi:10.1037//0012-16126.96.36.1992 PMID:12005379 (abstract) (pdf) Diamond, A.
Executive functions include 'thinking outside the box' (cognitive flexibility), mentally relating ideas and facts (working memory), and giving considered responses rather than impulsive ones, resisting temptations and staying focused (inhibitory control, including selective attention). Her many awards include an honorary doctorate () from Ben-Gurion University, the Bronfenbrenner Award for Lifetime Contributions to Developmental Psychology in the Service of Science and Society, named a Woman of Distinction by the YWCA, and named one of the 2000 Outstanding Women of the 20th Century. Diamonds lab integrates developmental, cognitive science, neuroscience, and molecular genetic methods to study prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the most complex cognitive abilities ('executive functions' [EFs]) that rely on PFC and interrelated brain regions. The Bronfenbrenner Award is given to an individual whose work has, over a lifetime career, contributed not only to the science of developmental psychology, but who has also worked to apply developmental psychology to society.
Recently we have turned our attention to the possible roles of music, dance, storytelling, traditional martial arts, positive sports, yoga, mindfulness, and even circus for improving executive functions, academic outcomes and mental and physical health.
[up] [home] Adele Diamonds work opened up a new field of inquiry, Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, which marked a milestone in the integration of developmental psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience.
Even though PFC is very immature early in life and takes a very long time to develop, it can already subserve elementary versions of the highest cognitive functions during the first year of life.
Diamond went on to facilitate many of the earliest collaborations between developmental and cognitive scientists, on the one hand, and neuroscientists on the other.