Cognitive Science Colloquium

Spring 2019

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

January 31 —  Diane Brentari (Linguistics, University of Chicago) -- CANCELLED. (Dr Brentari will now visit the colloquium on October 17th.)

February 7 —  Linda Smith (Psychology, Indiana University).

Title: Learning from the Infant’s Point of View
Abstract: How do infants learn their first words in a noisy environment? How do they progress from being slow incremental learners to rapid learners who appropriately generalize categories and concepts from minimal experience. In this talk, I will present evidence that the answer to these questions lies in the structure of the learning environment itself, which is not like that assumed by most theorists of early word learning and not like that used in language learning experiments. We have used head cameras to collect egocentric views (and parent talk) in the home from the perspective of infants and toddlers (8 month olds to 30 month olds, with no experimenters present, 500 hours of head camera video) and in a naturalistic toy room environment in the laboratory (about 200 hours of head-mounted eye tracking yielding both the ego-centric view and the gaze within that view). Our analyses of the everyday experiences indicate four principles we believe to be key to learning to becoming a rapid learner of object names and a robust learner across domains more generally. The four principles are: (1) Learn a massive amount about very few individual entities (and little bit about lots of other individual things); (2) Learn a massive amount about a very few categories (and a little bit about lots of other categories); (3) Learn about small selective sets at different points in time; (4) Self-generate the data for learning (with some help from mom and dad). 

February 21 —  Michael Beran (Psychology, Georgia State University).

Title: Chimpanzee Cognition: flexible, fallible, and fascinating
Abstract: After more than two decades of studying the behavior of chimpanzees three themes stand out to me. First, chimpanzees show greater flexibility in their behavior than do monkeys in areas such as information-seeking, confidence monitoring, self-control, and planning for the future. Second, chimpanzees show successes and failures that match human successes and failures of perception and cognition, but chimpanzees also sometimes fail where humans succeed. Third, these successes and failures in cognition in our closest living relatives are fascinating for what they tell us about chimpanzees, about the evolution of cognition, and about the nature of being human. I will highlight studies I have conducted with colleagues that compare chimpanzees, monkeys, and in some cases human children or adults, and I will discuss in detail those which have best demonstrated these three themes.

March 7 —  Duane Watson (Psychological Sciences, Vanderbilt).

Title: What Prosody can tell us about Language and Psychology

Abstract:  One of the central debates in the language sciences is whether linguistic representations can be divided into those that represent competence, i.e. linguistic knowledge, and those that represent performance, i.e. psychological processes that use that knowledge. Prosody is perhaps unique among linguistic representations in that it conveys information about linguistic structure, the psychological processes that underlie it, as well as emotion and affective information. In this talk, I will present work from my lab, as well as the prosody literature more generally, that suggests that prosody is determined by a number of different factors such as optimizing the signal for listeners, timing speech processes related to language production, syntax, and semantic structure. By studying prosody, language scientists can gain insight into linguistic structure (e.g. syntax, semantics, and discourse), psychological processes (e.g. production and comprehension), and how the two interact.

March 14 —  Elika Bergelson (Psychology & Neuroscience, Duke).

Title: The Nascent Lexicon: Word Learning in Infants
Abstract: One of the most fascinating aspects of language acquisition is that within a range of "normal" exposure and "typical" development, all children acquire the language in their environment, on a similar timescale. At the same time, the specific input a child gets dictates what she is in principle able to learn: a child who has never seen or heard of kangaroos will not learn the sound or meaning of that word. In this talk I examine the environment for early language acquisition, asking two central questions: (1) how much variability (or redundancy!) is there in the words that young infants see and hear, at the group and individual level, and (2) how does infants' home environment predict their own productions, and their performance on word comprehension measures in the lab. I will examine these questions in part within a rich multimodal longitudinal dataset dubbed SEEDLingS, discussing recent results of several eyetracking studies and corpus analyses probing early word learning. I will conclude by laying out new and ongoing work in my lab expanding beyond our typical 'boutique' samples to infants experiencing a broader range of learning environments.

April 4 — Kevin Ochsner (Psychology, Columbia University). -- CANCELLED

Title: Evolving perspectives on emotion, emotion regulation and their social context
Abstract: Successfully navigating our complex social world involves at least three abilities: perceiving and interpreting other people’s actions and status in our groups, having emotional responses as a consequence of these perceptions and interpretations, and as needed, being able to exert top-down control over all of the above. This talk will describe the evolution of a general purpose, multi-level, model that helps organize our understanding of the psychological and neural mechanisms underlying these abilities. Towards that end, the talk will begin with a brief description of the starting point for the model - the study of the self-regulation of emotion - and then will transition into a discussion of how the model can be elaborated to account for perceiving and regulating emotion and status in social contexts. The talk concludes by considering broader implications of the model.

April 25 —  Jay Van Bavel (Psychology, NYU).

Title: The Partisan Brain: A value-based model of political belief
Abstract: Democracies assume accurate knowledge by the populace, but the human attraction to fake and untrustworthy news poses a serious problem for healthy democratic functioning. This is exacerbated by the fact that political groups are more divided along ideological lines than at any point in decades. Although partisan antipathy accounts for deep rifts on a number of important issues, scientists still know very little about the neurobiological roots of polarization. In this talk, I will articulate why and how identification with political parties—known as partisanship—can bias information processing in the human brain. My research suggests that the roots of political partisanship are basic representations of group membership — grounding political differences in basic tribal distinctions between us and them. I will introduce a value based model of belief for understanding the influence of partisanship on these cognitive processes. This model bridges politics, psychology, and neuroscience to help explain why people place party loyalty over policy, and even truth. Specifically, the model explains how partisanship has cognitive consequences that extend well beyond motivated political reasoning, to memory, implicit evaluation, and even perceptual judgments. In the final section, I will discuss strategies for de-biasing information processing to help create a shared reality across partisan divides.

May 2 —  Liane Young (Psychology, Boston College).

Title: How we think about friend vs foe
Abstract: As social creatures, we spend a lot of time thinking about the mental lives of those around us. Does mental state representation differ across social contexts? We will explore this broad question using approaches from social neuroscience and developmental psychology. In the first part of the talk, we will look at how people deploy theory of mind for cooperation vs competition. In the second part of the talk, we will look at how people update their moral judgments of familiar vs unfamiliar others, in response to prediction error. We will end with some discussion of how neural signatures can inform the question of whether “biased” updating (e.g., of familiar others) reflects motivated cognition or rational decision-making.