Cortical Structure and Cognition in Infants and Toddlers

Jessica B. Girault, Emil Cornea, Barbara D. Goldman, Shaili C. Jha, Veronica A. Murphy, Gang Li, Li Wang, Dinggang Shen, Rebecca C. Knickmeyer, Martin Styner, John H. Gilmore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Cortical structure has been consistently related to cognitive abilities in children and adults, yet we know little about how the cortex develops to support emergent cognition in infancy and toddlerhood when cortical thickness (CT) and surface area (SA) are maturing rapidly. In this report, we assessed how regional and global measures of CT and SA in a sample (N = 487) of healthy neonates, 1-year-olds, and 2-year-olds related to motor, language, visual reception, and general cognitive ability. We report novel findings that thicker cortices at ages 1 and 2 and larger SA at birth, age 1, and age 2 confer a cognitive advantage in infancy and toddlerhood. While several expected brain-cognition relationships were observed, overlapping cortical regions were also implicated across cognitive domains, suggesting that infancy marks a period of plasticity and refinement in cortical structure to support burgeoning motor, language, and cognitive abilities. CT may be a particularly important morphological indicator of ability, but its impact on cognition is relatively weak when compared with gestational age and maternal education. Findings suggest that prenatal and early postnatal cortical developments are important for cognition in infants and toddlers but should be considered in relation to other child and demographic factors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)786-800
Number of pages15
JournalCerebral cortex (New York, N.Y. : 1991)
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Mar 21


  • brain development
  • cognitive development
  • neuroimaging
  • surface area
  • thickness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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