Cognitive Science Colloquium

Spring 2017

All meetings take place on Thursdays, 3.30-5.30 pm in Bioscience Research Building 1103, unless otherwise noted.

February 2  Jennifer Lerner (Public Policy & Management, Harvard)

Title: Portrait of the angry decision maker
Abstract: Drawing on the Appraisal-Tendency Framework (Lerner & Keltner, 2000; 2001), I will present a series of studies from my lab revealing that incidental anger systematically biases judgment and decision making by heightening perceptions of controllability and certainty, decreasing perceptions of risk, and increasing risk taking.  I then will present a series of studies (also from my lab) revealing the ways in which such superficially “biased” responses prove to be both biologically adaptive and financially lucrative, especially for males.  Taken together, the studies make clear that simple conclusions about the role of emotion in rationality obfuscate complex patterns of human behavior.  Angry decision makers exhibit a predictable pattern of responses but the normative consequences of such responses hinge on specific situational contingencies.

Note: — the visit of  Roger Levy (Brain & Cognitive Sciences, MIT), originally scheduled for Feb 16, is deferred to the 2017-18 academic year

February 23   Sabine Kastner (Neuroscience, Princeton) – Note: in BPS 1140B.

Title: Neural dynamics of the primate attention network

Abstract: The selection of information from our cluttered sensory environments is one of the most fundamental cognitive operations performed by the primate brain. In the visual domain, the selection process is thought to be mediated by a static spatial mechanism – a ‘spotlight’ that can be flexibly shifted around the visual scene. This spatial search mechanism has been associated with a large-scale network that consists of multiple nodes distributed across all major cortical lobes and includes also subcortical regions.  To identify the specific functions of each network node and their functional interactions is a major goal for the field of cognitive neuroscience.  In my lecture, I will challenge two common notions of attention research.  First, I will show behavioral and neural evidence that the attentional spotlight is neither stationary nor unitary. In the appropriate behavioral context, even when spatial attention is sustained at a given location, additional spatial mechanisms operate flexibly in parallel to monitor the visual environment. Second, spatial attention is assumed to be under ‘top-down’ control of higher order cortex. In contrast, I will provide neural evidence indicating that attentional control is exerted through thalamo-cortical interactions.  Together, this evidence indicates the need for major revisions of traditional attention accounts.

March 9Jessica Sommerville (Psychology, University of Washington)

Title: The virtuous baby? The limits and limitations of infants’ socio-moral cognition and behavior.
Abstract: Recently, twin narratives have arisen in both the scholarly literature and in the popular press that depict infants as a. moral judges and b. inherently altruistic. Each of these narratives has a set of corollaries or associated claims: that moral knowledge is built in, thorough, and relatively impervious to experience, and that infants’ moral behavior is unlearned, virtuously motivated, prolific and indiscriminate. In my talk, I will examine these narratives and claims in the context of my laboratory’s research on infants’ sensitivity to distributive fairness norms and infants’ prosocial behavior. Our results contextualize and temper these narratives and claims. First, infants’ socio-moral knowledge emerges over the course of development, is marked by individual differences, and may lack some components of a mature moral response. Second, infants’ prosocial behavior is influenced by experience, and impacted by variables that affect the personal costs and interpersonal benefits of acting prosocially. Together, these findings reveal the limits and limitations of infants’ socio-moral cognition and behavior.

March 16Clement Canonne (CNRS, Paris)

Title: The Cognition of Collective Improvisation
Abstract: Most studies in the field of music cognition treat music as an abstract sonic structure, a “sound text” that is received, analyzed for syntax and form, and eventually decoded for content and expression. However, music is also something that people do, and often something that people do together, a creative activity whose meaning is generated in real-time as a result of the interactions between a series of agents. This collective dimension of music-making is perhaps most obvious in improvised music, such as jazz or free jazz. In this talk, I will thus present several studies centered on collective free improvisation in order to better understand: how musicians manage to coordinate their actions and create music together when common knowledge between them is minimal; and how attending to music as collectively produced affect our listening experience.

March 30  Russell Poldrack (Psychology, Stanford)

Title: The future of fMRI in cognitive neuroscience
Abstract: Cognitive neuroscience has witnessed two decades of rapid growth, thanks in large part to the continued development of fMRI methods.  In my talk, I will question what this work has told us about brain function, and will propose some new directions that I see as being crucial to the ultimate success of cognitive neuroscience. First, I will discuss the need for approaches that allow selective associations between mental operations and representations and brain activity.  Related to this, I will discuss the need to develop and test formal ontologies of cognitive processes.  Finally, I will discuss the need to make research practices in neuroimaging more reproducible.


April 13Sarah Shomstein (Psychology, George Washington University)


Title: Hidden in Plain Sight: Intrusive Effects of Task-Irrelevant Representations on Attention
Abstract: Attention is a cognitive process by which a subset of sensory information is selected for further, more detailed, processing.  The study of attentional selection is often framed in terms of task relevant information, selected in accordance with the current goal of the organism, thought to be subserved by a large-scale network panning the frontal and parietal cortex. In my talk, I will challenge the notion that only task relevant information constrains attentional allocation. First, I will show that task-irrelevant information, both the intermediate (object) and high-level (semantic) representations, influence attentional allocation.  I will then demonstrate a mechanism by which task-irrelevant information influences selection via interactions between the posterior parietal and early visual cortices. I will conclude by proposing a novel approach suggesting that attention is a flexible mechanism that acts to reduce uncertainty present in the sensory environment. Evidence for this argument will be drawn from a set of behavioral, eye-tracking, and neuroimaging experiments. Taken together, I will argue that traditional accounts of attentional selection need to be revised to incorporate intrusive effects of task-irrelevant sensory stimuli.

April 20 —  Paul Harris (Education, Harvard)

Title: “I don’t know”: Ignorance and question-asking as engines for cognitive development
Abstract: In highlighting young children’s receptivity to, and appraisal of, potential informants, recent research on children’s early cultural learning has neglected their self-appraisals and their concomitant information seeking. Recent evidence shows that human toddlers spontaneously signal their own cognitive states; they use non-verbal gestures (e.g., a shoulder shrug and/or flipping of the palms upward and outward) together with explicit statements (“I don’t know”) to convey their ignorance. They also explicitly affirm what they know (“I know…”) and query the knowledge of an interlocutor (“Do you know…?”). Alongside such self-monitoring, toddlers also display an interrogative stance toward potential informants. They ask for information via pointing, via simple factual questions, and via explanation-seeking questions.  Granted that children are likely to vary considerably in the responses they receive to such information seeking, they are likely to arrive at different assessments of the scope of human knowledge, the magnitude of their own comparative ignorance, and the potential role of question-asking in mitigating such ignorance.

May 4  Ladan Shams (Psychology, UCLA) — cancelled

Title: tba
Abstract: tba