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Michael Skeide

Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences

Independent Research Group Leader

PhD, Psychology, Leipzig University, 2012
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Research Focus

Michael Skeide is a biological psychologist interested in the neurodevelopmental origins of intelligent behavior. The key questions guiding his research are: (1) How do we learn to understand information? (e.g. language, letters, numbers), (2) How do we build mental models of our experience? (e.g. a mental lexicon, a quantification system), and (3) How do we learn to use these models for intelligent actions? (e.g. math problem solving).

My plans for the fellowship period

My plan is to conduct a series of brain imaging studies in which I will follow children from the age of 3 years onwards. In contrast to traditional brain imaging, which focuses on seemingly “representative” samples, my objective is to establish novel experimental approaches that allow me to investigate learning in the brain of the individual child. These studies will take place in my lab in Germany and, importantly, also in field sites in India, Kenya, and Iran. The project in India will render it possible to investigate how a non-alphabetic script is implemented in the brain. The projects in Kenya and Iran will render it possible to examine the influence of culturally different finger counting routines on how the brain makes sense of numbers.

How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?

My work will shed light on the reorganization processes that each single brain (not a group “average” brain) goes through in the course of learning. This approach will reveal individual predictors of learning outcomes which in turn will guide practical efforts to detect children’s individual risk and resource profiles. Ultimately, this knowledge will bring early educators in a better position to recommend more targeted early intervention efforts that overcome “one-size-fits-all” programs.

My work will also make strides towards a better understanding of the specific learning challenges that the brain faces in different cultures. The resulting insights will tune teacher education to the complexity of educational needs in tomorrow’s increasingly heterogeneous learning environments. Future early educators will thus be better prepared to tailor education curricula to the culture-specific cognitive fingerprint of each child.

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