Natalie Portman, cognitive neuroscientist

Natalie Portman is best known for her roles in Hollywood movies like Star Wars, Cold Mountain and V for Vendetta. What is less known is that she was co-author of a scientific paper on the neuroscience of child development. This is about her research.

Portman, whose real name is Natalie Hershlag, left acting to pursue a psychology degree at Harvard during 2000.

While there she was employed as a research assistant in Prof Stephen Kosslyn’s neuropsychology lab where she got involved in a study investigating the link between frontal lobe development and visual knowledge in infants.

The study investigated object permanence – the ability to understand that objects do not disappear from the world when they are out of sight, something that typically develops in the first year of life.

Researchers have argued that the frontal lobes are particularly important for this skill, but the trouble is, you can’t put babies in conventional brain scanners to easily test the idea. They just wriggle about too much.

Portman’s study, led by neuroscientist Dr Abigail Baird, used a relatively new method for measuring brain function called near-infrared spectroscopy.

This technology relies on the fact that near-infrared light can penetrate the skull, and that blood carrying oxygen, and blood that has given up its oxygen, absorbs the light differently.

The idea is that the device beams light into the frontal lobes, and you can work out how hard this area is working from how much oxygen-rich blood there is.

The advantage is that this technology is safe for children, and can be worn as a sort of high-tech hat, meaning there’s less of a problem if the child being tested moves about.

During the study, infants were shown a toy, which was then hidden under a cloth. Children who have object permanence – who know that it hasn’t disappeared – look for it under the cloth.

Children without this skill just ignore the cloth and look for something else to do, because the memory of the toy is gone.

The study tested 20 infants, every four weeks, from the ages of 5-12 months. To see what changed in the brain as the ability emerged, the researchers compared infrared light absorption from a time when the kids first looked for the toy, to an earlier time, when they just forgot that it existed when it was out of sight.

The team discovered that the frontal lobes suddenly kicked in when children develop the knowledge that hidden objects still exist, providing an understanding of which brain areas are involved in this important mental function.

The study also demonstrated that near-infrared spectroscopy could be used successfully to study the brain development of very young children.

The paper was eventually published in the journal Neuroimage, under Natalie’s real name, with the title ‘Frontal lobe activation during object permanence: data from near-infrared spectroscopy’.

It has since been cited by at least 20 different studies that have built on its findings.

And if you want to read the study in full, it is available as a pdf file at the link below.

pdf of Neuroimage paper.

One Comment

  1. Posted April 17, 2010 at 1:44 am | Permalink

    I always wonder in psychology if the biological density of viable material existed on a planet within the universe expansion that occurs every three billion years, which enables an animal kingdom on Mercury without humanity present. A planet as far away from the sun as earth after the anchor of genesis material, or neutrino. On the shell of ozone layer, the transmitter of artificial technology instead biblical televisions. In a world dense with such biological sustenance, producing a world at not single, murder, accident, or rape, miscarriage in the vibration of the force. The fact observation of the world, the people would perceive in biological compressed layers, that 87 percent of the human population karmic design would be approximately in the furry humans, and that is their only problem. All their other global problems went away. Some of profound so called spiritual leader like from India or China ended up covered in fur. So, the structure of the world beat down what would anchor the viable material on the planet.
    So, if the first step into creations of a female was at that karmic content. Eleventh and thirteenth line in the tissue evolution calendar with stillness meaning Pad may. While the first three tissue evolution notes of a such a calendar compose the cord to biological birth. What would be the permanent female response into eternity?
    The organic party satellite light bulb hung in stillness for the Star Wars Queen. N. Tai (Tie) Drago.


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