Coding Brain

In parallel to technological and curriculum development, DevTech also seeks to understand the cognitive and neural basis of computer programming in young children. Since computer programming is traditionally associated with problem solving, when entering schools it is grouped with STEM disciplines. However, the underlying assumption – that programming abilities are solely related to math and general problem solving skills – has not gone unchallenged. We are investigating if programming may also be related to the cognitive processes associated with language, akin to acquiring a foreign language.



This work comes at a time when there is a re-envisioning of STEM in early childhood education as well as a push for integrating coding at all levels of the educational system. Understanding whether engaging in computer programming primarily relies on domain-general problem-solving resources or whether it additionally engages language processing mechanisms, will provide critical insights into the cognitive and neural basis of programming. Previous research has shown through behavioral evidence that conceptualizing coding as a literacy, and correspondingly using strategies typically used to teach a new language, leads to positive learning outcomes. However, that body of work does not speak to the nature of the cognitive and neural mechanisms that support programming in children. And yet such understanding is key for developing learning trajectories in computational thinking, effective curricula, and policy recommendations for incorporating the teaching of computer science. Through this research, DevTech seeks to contribute to the fields of learning technologies, early childhood education, and computer science education, as well developmental neuroscience and cognitive sciences. 

  • Ivanova, A., Srikant, S., Sueoka, Y., Kean, H., Dhamala, R., O’Reilly, U. M., Bers, M. U., & Fedorenko, E. (2019, October). The Neural Basis of Program Comprehension. Poster session presented at the Society for Neuroscience 2019, Chicago, IL.