Research in the field of developmental cognitive neuroscience has shown that audition and language exhibit plasticity, i.e. the ability to modify pre-existing neural synaptic connections dedicated to particular cognitive systems, depending on the quantity and quality of the environmental stimuli during a specific developmental stage. However, there is very little consensus in the literature with respect to the precise limits of these windows of opportunity. In this project we will tackle the issue of plasticity of the auditory system and its effect on language and general cognitive development.
Two main hypotheses will be tested (i) the development of sensory, language and higher cognitive systems is triggered by qualitatively and quantitatively sufficient stimuli within a well-determined time window; and (ii) language plays a crucial role in higher cognitive development, more particularly in Theory of Mind development.
These hypotheses will be tested on populations of children that have been deprived from sound due to congenital deafness. Comparative cohort studies of oral Dutch deaf children who have received cochlear implants at different ages will enable us to answer the central question of this project, namely whether cochlear implantation early in life leads to better auditory perception, providing the redundancy necessary for incidental language learning and higher cognitive development.