Title: Using Automated Controlled Rearing to Characterize the Origins of Cognition
Abstract: One of the great unsolved mysteries in psychology concerns the origins and basis of cognition. How do newborns transform sensory input into knowledge? What mechanisms underlie cognition in newborn brains? Despite widespread interest in these questions, methodological barriers have prevented detailed analysis of cognitive development in newborns. To overcome these barriers, my lab invented a powerful set of automated controlled-rearing methods for studying newborn cognition, using newborn chicks as a model system. We raise chicks in strictly controlled virtual worlds and record their behavior 24/7 as they learn to perceive and understand their environment. Fueled by interactive video game engines, we can explore how core abilities (e.g., object perception) emerge in newborn brains and characterize the role of experience in cognitive development. This approach provides benchmarks for reverse engineering the origins of cognition and building artificial intelligence that learns like newborn animals.