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Although each Axis covers a different part of the lifespan they are not meant to be discrete units but are instead intended to be somewhat overlapping.


Development & Continuity of Fundemental Skills


Skills are learned capacities that an individual develops with experience. Deploying the right skills at the right time allows an individual effectively respond to the challenges posed by their environment. The Skills Axis seeks to identify the skills that are important for an individual's successful development, and to investigate how these skills are acquired, improved, and maintained. We are interested in both the normative skills acquired by nearly every typically developing person (e.g., learning one's native language, learning to walk), and in specialized skills acquired by only some individuals in response to their instrumental needs, goals, or interests (e.g., learning a second language, learning to play a musical instrument). Although each of our members is specialized in their expertise, collaborations within the group reveal how these skills build upon each other. For example, the acquisition of basic language skills in infancy sets the stage for phonological awareness in preschool, an important prerequisite for learning to read, which in turn paves the way for school success and subsequent career achievement. Similarly, we are exploring how acquisition of particular skills can be beneficial and/or protective with respect to other domains of functioning. For example, in infancy and early childhood, we have found evidence that growing up bilingual confers social and cognitive advantages, such as improved executive functioning, and decreased in-group biases. Amongst older adults, we are exploring how brain training and aerobic exercise can be protective against age-related cognitive and motor decline, and whether learning a second language might delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Another interest is in how the development of new skills might compensate for deficits and/or losses in other domains. For example, speechreading can support language comprehension in individuals with hearing loss. Our work interfaces with the other research Axes in important and dynamic ways. For example, the honing of specific social skills supports the maintenance of healthy relationships across the lifespan. From an intergenerational perspective, the acquisition of parenting skills by one generation will help to support the development of a myriad of other skills in the younger generation. Considering our work through the lens of this Skills Axis has led to new approaches, collaborations, and insights into the role that skills play in promoting successful development. Further, our collaborations are beginning to reveal specific skills-based interventions that can promote healthy functioning across the lifespan.


(Axis Leaders: Krista Byers-Heinlein, Karen Li, Jean-Pierre Gagné)