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Cognition Projects 

Leveraging technological advances to develop new tools to measure cognitive abilities

1. Pathfinder

General cognitive ability (g), the ability to reason, plan, and solve problems, is a crucial predictor of educational, social, and health outcomes. Measuring g reliably is fundamental for researchers, clinicians, and educators. Traditional measures of g (e.g., IQ tests) are lengthy, expensive, and require in-person administration by a trained psychologist. These demands and expenses have hindered our ability to integrate g in research and clinical practice. To overcome these limitations, we developed a new, brief, reliable, valid, and engaging measure of g, Pathfinder, created for and validated in adult populations. 

Pathfinder can be accessed by all researchers, and easily integrated within existing data collection platforms.

Read our published work on Pathfinder

2. Spatial Spy

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Technological advances in the field of virtual reality (VR) provide a novel powerful tool to study individual differences in spatial orientation skills in realistic settings that can be fully controlled and standardized across participants. We developed an innovative, gamified battery to measure six aspects of spatial orientation: navigation, map reading, way-finding and large-scale scanning and perspective-taking skills, set in a virtual environment.

Read our published work on Spatial Spy

The specific predictive power of spatial ability for STEM achievement and careers

STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education is becoming increasingly important in our increasingly technological world. For governments and businesses, higher student engagement in STEM represents an investment in human capital development; at the individual level, success in STEM is associated with positive life outcomes, including income, well-being, and all-cause mortality. Given this, it is important to understand the factors that predict both students’ success in STEM and their decision to pursue STEM careers —the basic knowledge necessary to increase overall engagement in STEM as well as reduce disparities in STEM outcomes. 


This project examines the extent to which different aspects of spatial ability (navigation, object manipulation, and visualization), distilled from a battery of 16 tests, can predict STEM educational outcomes and post-secondary degree choice and the extent of their prediction after accounting for general cognitive ability.

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This Figure shows spatial ability scores plotted as a function of how far participants had gone through the STEM pipeline (1/green = did not choose any non-compulsory STEM at GCSE, 2/orange = chose at least one non-compulsory STEM GCSE, 3/purple = chose at least one STEM A(S)-Level, and 4/pink = chose to pursue a STEM Bachelor’s degree or higher). Box plots indicate the median, interquartile range, and min/max values. Asterisks indicate significant differences in spatial ability mean between groups. All groups differ significantly in their level of spatial ability

Gene-environment interplay in cognitive development in childhood and adolescence

Genetic differences between people have been found to contribute to observed interindividual variability in cognitive abilities. Research has shown that these genetic influences on cognitive abilities are not independent of environmental factors. However, we lack a comprehensive investigation of which environmental factors combine with genetic disposition to result in variation in cognitive development.

This project will systematically investigate the specific environmental contexts (family, neighborhood, and school environments), perinatal and growth factors (early parenting, nutrition), and motivated behaviors (motivations and goals) that mediate the pathway linking genetic disposition, measured using polygenic scores, to manifested cognitive ability over development. 

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We will leverage the data collected over three decades as part of the Twins Early Development Study (N = 10000), a sample specifically selected for its rich array of cognitive, environmental, and psychological measures, as well as genetic data.

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