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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)

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., 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.
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?
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:
  • 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)
  • 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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  • PATH Brain Training
    Attention cognitive science students who are interested in marketing novel biotech solutions to the schools. PATH brain training employs a paradigm shift. These brain training exercises that rely upon the brain’s neuroplasticity were found to improve the function of the dorsal, attention, and executive control brain pathways so that paying ...
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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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