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CogSci Podcast #1: An interview with Jeremy Karnowski

"Advice I got was... it would be better if you were able to actually study real-world systems... That was really fundamental in how I started shifting from one career to the next... If people are in the clouds too much, trying to focus in on real phenomena... is a really important thing to learn." (more)



Creel, S. C., Rojo, D. P., & Paullada, A. N. (In press). Effects of contextual support on preschoolers’ accented speech comprehension. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.
Young children often hear speech in unfamiliar accents, but relatively little research characterizes their comprehension capacity. The current study tested preschoolers’ comprehension of familiar-accented vs. unfamiliar-accented speech with varying levels of contextual support from sentence frames (full sentences vs. isolated words) and from visual context (four salient pictured alternatives, vs. the absence of salient visual referents). The familiar-accent advantage was more robust when visual context was absent, suggesting that previous findings of good accent comprehension in infants and young children may result from ceiling effects in easier tasks (picture fixation, picture selection) relative to the more-difficult tasks often used with older children and adults. In contrast to prior work on mispronunciations, where most errors were novel-object responses, children in the current study did not select novel-object referents above chance levels. This suggests that some property of accented speech may dissuade children from inferring that an unrecognized familiar-but-accented word has a novel referent. Finally, children showed detectable accent processing difficulty despite presumed incidental community exposure. Results suggest that preschoolers’ accented speech comprehension is still developing, consistent with theories of protracted development of speech processing.
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.
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.
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.

Featured Classes
Fall 2016:
  • COGS119: Programming/Experimental Res.
  • COGS260: Auditory Learning & Plasticity
    How do learners young and old form representations of speech sounds, words, music? This course will review classic to modern literature on topics including speech sound acquisition, word-meaning mapping, phonological pattern learning, music acquisition and processing, auditory statistical learning, and the role of variability in auditory category learning. We will explore behavioral, neurophysiological, and computational approaches, turning a critical eye toward differences in investigative techniques (conditioned head turn; (dis)habituation; association learning; eye tracking; ERP) and what each of these paradigms can—and cannot—tell us about development and plasticity.
  • COGS260: Seminar on Special Topics
    Imitation: An Inter-Disciplinary Survey - This course will examine research and theory on imitation from a variety of perspectives. We will look at imitation in nonhumans, to get a sense of the range of mechanisms that can be responsible for behavioral replication. We will review neurological data in humans linked to imitative processes. We will discuss the emergence of imitation in human evolution by exploring theoretical arguments from paleo-biology on the rise and consequence of mimesis, and computational modeling accounts of the role of imitation in the evolution of a shared signal repertoire between collaborative agents. We will consider imitation in human development, looking both at its function in the emergence of language and the role it plays in mediating and revealing social relationships. We will also examine imitation in adults, including its affects on prosociality, and its role in cultural development, conformity, and the propagation of innovation. Participants will be expected to read and discuss the assigned papers, act as facilitator for at least one discussion, and write a final paper integrating and expanding this interdisciplinary literature.
  • COGS260: Crowdsourcing Reasearch
    Crowdsourcing has unleashed exciting opportunities for harnessing human intelligence and creativity at scale. In this course, students will explore different platforms and mechanisms, discuss ethical and cultural issues, and conduct novel research that contributes to the literature on crowdsourcing and human computation. Topics include human computation, citizen science, collective intelligence, crowd-powered systems, and ethical issues. Students will complete homework assignments, discuss key papers, interact with special guest speakers, and create innovative research projects in teams.

Research Opportunities (199s)
  • Automation and Human Communication
    We investigate how autonomous vehicles, as currently being developed, will handle everyday traffic situations on city streets in a safe, efficient and socially acceptable manner. In comparison to highway driving, driving in urban environments is more complex, involving a broader range of parallel, subtle and non-verbal forms of communication with ...
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  • Brain mechanisms underlying spatial navigation and movement behaviors
    Successful navigation through an environment demands encoding of position within that environment at any given moment. Additionally, actions or routes taken through an environment can contribute to spatial cognition. For instance, knowing that one is on the second floor of a building can be informed by the experience of having ...
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  • Speech Production Adaptation to Individual Speakers
    When speaking to another person, we tailor our speech production based on information we know about that person: for example, you probably don't use the same vocabulary with a professor as you do with a 2-year-old. This project will investigate how specific this adaptation in the speech production system is. ...
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Recent News & Links (see all)


2nd Annual Design Competition

Objective is to design a device or platform that improves the quality-of-life for senior citizens.


Steven Dow at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Professor Steven Down presented a keynote address at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory


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