Jacobs Foundation Research Fellow

Yana Fandakova

University of Trier

Research Focus

Yana Fandakova is a developmental cognitive neuroscientist studying adaptive learning and behavior across childhood and adolescence. She is particularly interested in how cognitive control supports learning, from acquiring new skills to recalling events from memory and tackling complex situations such as multitasking. She also asks how curiosity – the desire to learn – helps children regulate their behavior and enhance learning. She uses an array of methodological approaches, including neuroimaging, physiology, training and experimental studies, to understand why some children manage to act in a goal-directed manner relatively early on whereas others struggle to do so and need more time. 

My plans for the Fellowship

In the course of development, children face the need to develop a well-calibrated capacity to regulate thoughts and actions while pursuing different goals across very different contexts: from patiently waiting for the bus, to following teachers’ instructions, or maintaining composure during a visit to relatives. During my fellowship, I will investigate how memories of past experiences in which behavior was successfully regulated to attain a goal are recalled later on to facilitate goal-directed behavior in similar situations.  

I will use complementary methodological approaches to understand how children use their developing memory skills to flexibly regulate behavior. First, I will leverage existing longitudinal datasets to examine how memory, cognitive control, and brain development interact over time across development. Second, I will use optical imaging to uncover the neural mechanisms by which memory guides cognitive control across early and middle childhood. Third, I will use virtual reality to examine whether curiosity can promote adaptive behavior regulation through its positive effects on memory in an attempt to recreate closer-to-life scenarios. This research will help elucidate the role of the environment and how children’s everyday experiences shape their future goal-directed learning and behavior. 

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

During my fellowship, I will examine how context, or what children are asked to do, and where, contributes to the development of the ability to regulate learning in a goal-directed manner. This work will advance our understanding of how memory scaffolds children’s ability to adaptively control their thoughts and actions. It will lay the foundation for building actionable knowledge about the experiences and contexts that foster children’s learning. This work will pave the way for programs to create and emphasize links between goals and contexts to facilitate children’s capacity to act skillfully across a variety of situations. Translating these insights into designing learning environments and inviting children to engage in a wide range of goal-directed behaviors provides a clear pathway toward strengthening the learning potential of the children who need it most.