Umass Psychology People
Dr. Matt Davidson
Position(s): Assistant Professor
My research program targets a better understanding of the development of executive functions, including attention, working memory and cognitive control. Current studies are exploring the effects of physical activity on cognitive abilities and emotional stability in children and young adults, including gender related differences before, during, and after puberty. The influence of individual differences in genetic makeup are being tested in a gene x environment investigation of neurogrowth factors and physical activity. Finally, neuroimaging techniques are being used to address questions about the neural networks and transmitter/hormonal systems underlying these differences. This interdisciplinary approach allows us to test interactions between different factors at several levels of analysis and will eventually provide a more holistic understanding of the benefits of physical activity.
The Activity for Brain and Cognitive Development Lab
The focus of the ABCD lab is to identify the benefits that increased physical activity has on development of brain and cognitive abilities in both typically and atypically developing children. The children range from 3 to 25 years with specific studies targeting specific age groups and clinical/at-risk populations. We use a variety of methodologies to quantify these benefits, including: behavioral measures and clinical scales, genetic and hormonal analyses, and MRI and fMRI techniques.
Our theoretical position builds on the selective enhancement hypothesis that describes the larger cognitive benefits on higher-order executive functions, and the greater biological impacts in the frontal cortex of elderly participants (e.g. Kramer et al, 2008). These abilities and brain regions are often the first to show signs of deterioration as a function of aging and, therefore, may be more influenced by physical activity. Importantly, these abilities and brain regions are also the last to reach maturity and may, therefore, be more amenable to these influences during development.
We are investigating these benefits in several on-going projects, including: after acute exercise (30 minutes of aerobic activity), chronic activity (tracking activity patterns using actigraph ® accelerometers), and after a six-month activity intervention (in preschool children considered at-risk for developing ADHD). The inclusion of the genetic and hormonal measures allows us to identify the mechanisms that underlie these benefits and to begin exploring individual differences in the benefits we observe.
In addition, we are testing the benefits of acute exercise on emotional reactivity in young female adults at the premenstrual phase of their monthly cycle. This project uses fMRI to identify patterns of neural activation to neutral and negatively charged pictures and quantifies the differences in these patterns as a function of exercise condition. The images presented below show a reduction in activation in the amygdala and an increase in activiation in the cingulate cortex when the subjects exercised just before going into the scanner, relative to the no exercise condition.
If you are interested in assisting with these types of research projects please contact Dr. Davidson.