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For more than 100 years, comparative psychologists have sought to understand the evolution of human intelligence. New paradigms for studying cognitive processes in animals—in particular symbol use and memory—have, for the first time, allowed psychologists and neuroscientists to compare higher thought processes in animals and human beings.  New imaging approaches have also facilitated exploring the neural basis of behavior and both animals and humans.  Questions concerning the nature of animal and human cognition have defined the themes of this seminar whose members include specialists in cognition, ethology, philosophy and neuroscience.

Professor Mariam Aly

Professor Herbert S. Terrace

Jorge Mallea

Meeting dates and locations are subject to change. Please confirm details with the seminar rapporteur.

Meeting Schedule

09/26/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM
Cognitive and socioemotional development after repeated exposure to general anesthesia in infant rhesus monkeys
Mark Baxter, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
Speaker Link Abstract


Children that undergo more than one surgical procedure under general anesthesia before the age of 3-4 years have higher incidences of neurobehavioral disorders, including learning disabilities and ADHD. This has been linked to a basic science literature showing neurotoxic effects of general anesthetics in infant animals, primarily rodents. Because studies in humans cannot separate possible effects of anesthesia from those of the medical conditions that require surgery, it is still controversial whether pediatric general anesthesia might adversely affect cognitive development. To address this issue, we tested whether repeated exposure to sevoflurane (a common anesthetic in pediatric surgery) in infant rhesus monkeys would affect their cognitive and socioemotional development. We chose to investigate this in rhesus monkeys because of the close correspondence between their neural and behavioral development and that of humans, and because existing knowledge of neurobehavioral development in rhesus monkeys provides a basis for interpreting any effects of anesthesia. Compared to control monkeys not exposed to sevoflurane, anesthesia-treated monkeys had heightened anxiety-related behaviors and impaired visual recognition memory. Sevoflurane exposure was also associated with smaller synapses in hippocampal area CA1, measured using electron microscopy when the monkeys were ~4 years of age. These findings indicate that repeated exposure to general anesthesia early in development is sufficient to cause long-term behavioral and neuroanatomical changes in a primate. This opens the door to testing potential strategies to mitigate or prevent these changes in children with medical conditions that require multiple surgeries. This program of work also illustrates how fundamental behavioral neuroscience research, of interest in its own right, enables the study of important public health problems.

11/07/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM

James Knierim, Johns Hopkins University
Speaker Link

12/05/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM

Briana Pobinar, Smithsonian Institution
Speaker Link

03/05/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM

Asif Ghazanfar, Princeton University
Speaker Link

Notes: Joint meeting with the Seminar on Language and Cognition (681)
04/30/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM

Denise Cai, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
Speaker Link