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Cogcast #2: Applying to grad school - an interview with Rachel Buckser

CogSci undergraduate student Ming-Ray Liao interviews first-year grad student Rachel Buckser about applying to grad school. (more)



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.
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
Winter 2017:
  • COGS118D: Stats/Behavioral Data Analysis
  • COGS160: Lang Devlpmnt/Early Childhood
    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. COGS 160 is a 3-quarter sequence. Content, skills, and responsibilities evolve and expand every quarter. Students work with a supervisor who oversees training and task progress. Requirements for enrollment: 1) Upper-division coursework in Cognitive Science, Human Development, Linguistics, and/or Psychology, covering content including one or more cognition or cognitive development cognitive ethnography, neuroscience, psycholinguistics; 2) GPA of 3.3 or better; 3) Commitment to a 3-quarter, 4-credit sequence. To contact Dr. Deak [deak@cogsci.ucsd.edu] for permission to enroll in this course.
  • COGS160: Social Computing
    This course explores the intersection of social behavior and computational systems. The growth of online environments like Facebook, Wikipedia, Twitter, Instagram, WhatApp, blogs, online support groups, open-source development projects, and crowdsourcing platforms shows that web technology is not just about delivering information, but also connecting people. Social Computing is the study of social processes and the technology that supports and augments it. Students will examine a range of organizational, technical, and business challenges related to social computing, and learn how to use tools to analyze, design, and build online communities. Social computing draws from fields as diverse as cognitive science, software engineering, artificial intelligence, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and organizational behavior. Course work will include lectures, class discussion, homework, class presentations, and a group research or design project. Pre-req: Senior status and CogSci-HCI major or Design minor. Go to here for pre-authorization request to enroll in the course https://a4.ucsd.edu/tritON/Authn/UserPassword
  • COGS181: Neural Networks/Deep Learning

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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  • 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 ...
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BMES Lab Expo

The UCSD Biomedical Engineering Society invites you to join the BMES Lab Expo on Friday, January 20th 2017, 10AM-5PM in the Price Center Ballroon, East. 

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Postdoc Position available in Computational & Cognitive Neuroscience Lab

Applications are invited from highly motivated researchers for a postdoctoral position immediately available in the Computational & Cognitive Neuroscience Lab, led by Angela Yu, at University of California, San Diego.


2nd Annual Design Competition

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


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