News Story

Rob Cortes et al. have paper accepted at ‘Science Advances’

June 22, 2022 – A paper on which graduate student Rob Cortes is lead author was just accepted at Science Advances. This is a great accomplishment for Rob, and another example of the success that comes from our department’s collaborative ethos — in this case, the Green lab worked with the Lyons lab, and also consulted on critical questions with Anna Johnson. This research (title and abstract are below) was also conducted in partnership with teachers, students, families, and administrators in local (northern Virginia) schools. Rob has been involved with the project since his days as a Georgetown Undergrad.

Transfer from Spatial Education to Verbal Reasoning and Prediction of Transfer from Learning-Related Neural Change 

Current debate surrounds the promise of neuroscience for education, including whether learning-related neural changes can predict learning transfer better than traditional performance-based learning assessments. Longstanding debate in philosophy and psychology concerns the proposition that spatial processes underlie seemingly nonspatial/verbal reasoning (mental model theory). If so, education that fosters spatial cognition might improve verbal reasoning. Here, in a quasi-experimental design in real-world STEM classrooms, a curriculum devised to foster spatial cognition yielded transfer to improved verbal reasoning. Further indicating a spatial basis for verbal transfer, students’ spatial cognition gains predicted and mediated their reasoning improvement. Longitudinal fMRI detected learning-related changes in neural activity, connectivity, and representational similarity in spatial cognition-implicated regions. Neural changes predicted and mediated learning transfer. Ensemble modeling demonstrated better prediction of transfer from neural change than from traditional measures (tests, grades). Results support in-school “spatial education,” and suggest that neural change can inform future development of transferable curricula.