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Dear Future Grad Students

Each year, the CogSci faculty review applications for new graduate students, and they invite some of the most stand-out applicants to our Open House. This visit allows prospective grad students a chance to experience our department — they meet lots of faculty and grad students, they see our labs and campus, and they get a taste of San Diego ... (more)



Cooperrider, K., Slotta, J., and Núñez, R. (2016). Uphill and Downhill in a Flat World: The Conceptual Topography of the Yupno House. Cognitive Science.
Speakers of many languages around the world rely on body-­‐based contrasts (e.g. left/right) for spatial communication and cognition. Speakers of Yupno, a language of Papua New Guinea’s mountainous interior, rely instead on an environment-­‐based uphill/downhill contrast. Body-­‐based contrasts are as easy to use indoors as outdoors, but environment-­‐ based contrasts may not be. Do Yupno speakers still use uphill/downhill contrasts indoors and, if so, how? We report three studies on spatial communication within the Yupno house. Even in this Hlat world, uphill/downhill contrasts are pervasive. However, the terms are not used according to the slopes beyond the house’s walls, as reported in other groups. Instead, the house is treated as a microworld, with a "conceptual topography" that is strikingly reminiscent of the physical topography of the Yupno valley. The phenomenon illustrates some of the distinctive properties of environment-­‐based reference systems, as well as the universal power and plasticity of spatial contrasts.
Núñez, Rafael, and Fias, Wim. (2015). "Ancestral Mental Number Lines: What Is the Evidence?." Cognitive Science.
Over the last two decades substantial efforts have been made to investigate the question of whether the building blocks of human mathematical concepts ultimately have their origins in biological evolution. A relevant case study is the “mental number line” hypothesis, which states that numbers are represented in the brain as spatial entities along a mental line, yielding behavioral manifestations. Some developmental (de Hevia & Spelke, 2009, 2010), cross-cultural (Dehaene, Izard, Spelke, & Pica, 2008a), and comparative (Drucker & Brannon, 2014) studies have suggested that number-to-space mappings—underlying mental number lines—are biologically endowed universals, emerging independently of language and culture. Recently, going further, Rugani, Vallortigara, Priftis, and Regolin (2015) have argued that newborn domestic chicks (Gallus gallus) map numbers to space resembling humans’ mental number line, and they claimed that “spatial mapping of numbers from left to right may be a universal cognitive strategy available soon after birth” (p. 536). After training newborn chicks to circumnavigate a centered panel depicting a target numerosity (5 elements for some chicks, 20 for others), the researchers allowed the chicks to explore an environment containing two panels—to the left and to the right, displaying identical numerosities either smaller or greater than the target (2 or 8 elements, and 8 or 32, respectively). The authors reported that around 70% of the time the chicks preferred the left panel when the numerosity was smaller than the target and the right one when it was greater. They interpreted these results as evidence that there is a left-to-right number-to-space mapping in newborn chicks that resembles humans’ mental number line. But do the data really support these claims?
Pajak, B., Creel, S. C., & Levy, R. (In press). Difficulty in learning similar-sounding words: a developmental stage or a general property of learning? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition.
How are languages learned, and to what extent are learning mechanisms similar in infant native-language (L1) and adult second-language (L2) acquisition? In terms of vocabulary acquisition, we know from the infant literature that the ability to discriminate similar-sounding words at a particular age does not guarantee successful word–meaning mapping at that age (Stager & Werker, 1997). However, it is unclear whether this difficulty arises from developmental limitations of young infants (e.g., poorer working memory) or whether it is an intrinsic part of the initial word learning, L1 and L2 alike. In this study, we show that adults of particular L1 backgrounds—just like young infants—have difficulty learning similar-sounding L2 words that they can nevertheless discriminate perceptually. This suggests that the early stages of word learning, whether L1 or L2, intrinsically involve difficulty in mapping similar- sounding words onto referents. We argue that this is due to an interaction between 2 main factors: (a) memory limitations that pose particular challenges for highly similar-sounding words, and (b) uncertainty regarding the language’s phonetic categories, because the categories are being learned concurrently with words. Overall, our results show that vocabulary acquisition in infancy and adulthood shares more similarities than previously thought, thus supporting the existence of common learning mechanisms that operate throughout the life span.
Creel, S. C. (In press). Ups and downs in auditory development: Preschoolers’ sensitivity to pitch contour and timbre. Cognitive Science Journal.
Much research has explored developing sound representations in language, but less work addresses developing representations of other sound patterns. This study examined preschool children’s musical representations using two different tasks: discrimination and sound–picture association. Melodic contour—a musically relevant property—and instrumental timbre, which is (arguably) less musically relevant, were tested. In Experiment 1, children failed to associate cartoon characters to melodies with maximally different pitch contours, with no advantage for melody preexposure. Experiment 2 also used different-contour melodies and found good discrimination, whereas association was at chance. Experiment 3 replicated Experiment 2, but with a large timbre change instead of a contour change. Here, discrimination and association were both excellent. Preschool-aged children may have stronger or more durable representations of timbre than contour, particularly in more difficult tasks. Reasons for weaker association of contour than timbre information are discussed, along with implications for auditory development.

Featured Classes
Spring 2017:
  • COGS118C: Neural Signal Processing
  • COGS160: Advanced Interaction Design
    This is a studio class for students who are passionate about diving deep into interaction design and honing their design skills. Introduces social computing, input & interaction techniques, and information design. Students will regularly present work in a studio format. Pre-req: (CSE 8B or CSE 11) and (Cogs 120 or CSE 170).
  • COGS160: Communication in Infancy
    A mixed Practicum/Seminar course designed to provide hands-on experience in research on infancy and early childhood. Students learn skills and are assigned responsibilities based on the project to which they are assigned. Students also participate in a journal club and prepare brief end-of-quarter presentations and reports. This is a 3 quarter sequence: content, skills, and responsibilities evolve and expand every quarter. Contact Dr. Deak [gdeak@ucsd.edu] directly for permission to enroll in this course.
  • COGS160: Brain Waves
    This course will provide an introduction to rhythms and large-scale electrical potentials of the brain. Topics will include the resonance properties of neurons, rhythmic interactions between neurons, and the coordination of activity across large populations of neurons that is measurable in the local field potential (LFP) and electroencephalogram (EEG). In addition, this course will discuss the advantages of temporally coordinated neural activity, and the insights that can be gained about the brain and cognitive disorders from studying this coordination. Pre-req: Cogs 17 or Cogs 107A.
  • COGS180: Neural Coding/Sensory Systems
    This course covers recent advances in the understanding of common neural mechanisms and computational principles underlying the brain’s ability to process multiple sources of sensory information—vision, audition, olfaction, touch, and equilibrioception—and translate them into actions. Prerequisites: Cognitive Science 1, Cognitive Science 14B, Cognitive Science 101A, and Cognitive Science 109.
  • COGS122: Interaction Design Startup
    Explores tools and processes for innovating novel business concepts to solve problems involving the interaction between humans and technology. Students will work with an interdisciplinary team to understand unmet user needs and to create a value proposition that balances technical feasibility, financial viability, and desirability. Pre-req: COGS120 or COGS187A or COGS187B or DSGN100.

Research Opportunities (199s)
  • How children reason about the social world?
    Want to work with Dr. Adena Schachner’s Mind and Development Lab on studies exploring how children reason about the social world? We would like to invite motivated students to join our lab as research assistants for Winter Quarter 2017 and beyond (minimum 3 quarter commitment). We are currently running studies ...
    (click for details)

Recent News & Links (see all)


Tech Talk and Pre-Hack Tutorial

Teradata is hosting a tech talk and pre-hack tutorial on Monday, February 27th 6-8pm in the Qualcomm Conference Center. There will be pizza!


Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Services Hackathon

The Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Services Hackathon sponsored by Teradata will be held from March 3rd-5th, 2017 in the CSE building.


UC Executive Order-Immigration Resource

The University of California has a released a website with information on immigration and resources relevant to the Executive Order.


Intel Deep Learning Workshop

Intel is coming to UC San Diego with a new workshop on Deep Learning.

Thursday, 2/23/17, 5pm-8pm


Join us for dinner, learning, giveaways and prizes for all attendees!

Learn the fundamentals of Machine Learning, Deep Learning & Artificial Intelligence focused on newly optimized frameworks for Intel Architecture like Neon, Caffe, and Theano from professional and academic experts. The workshop will touch on topics relating to:

  • - Machine Learning & Deep Learning Fundamentals
  • - Applications in Real Life
  • - Deep Learning Examples, like Convolutional Neural Networks (CNN) for Image Recognition
  • - How Intel plans to help developers to improve performance of Machine Learning workloads
  • - What frameworks are optimized for Intel Architecture, and how you can get access to them
  • - And more!


Uncovering Black America's Contributions to Cognitive Science

Come to a lunch seminar hosted by the UCSD Department of Cognitive Science, we will recognize and celebrate the contributions of Black researchers by speaking about the work of three amazing scientists and discussing the importance of a diversity of perspective in research. 


Winter 2017 Design@Large Talks

Design@Large

CSE Building, Room 1202

Wednesdays 4pm - 5:15pm


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