Cognitive Science Colloquium Series

2013-2014 Series


May 1, 2014 (CSB Auditorium, 4:30 pm)

Individual differences in the shape bias in word learning in typically developing children and children with Specific Language Impairment

James S. Magnuson (University of Connecticut and Haskins Laboratories)

By the time children produce about 150 nouns, they exhibit a “shape bias” when generalizing object names. When children at this stage are shown a novel object and asked to find another like it (“look at this! can you find another one?”), they will randomly choose objects similar to the novel object in shape, texture, color, or size. When the object is given a name, however (“look at this wug! can you find another wug?”), they predominantly choose objects with the same shape. Linda Smith and her colleagues have argued that children have learned that there is coherent covariation between visible object properties and linguistic frames involving names; that is, that children have picked up on a regularity in the world that nameable solid objects are more likely to share shape than other dimensions. Given evidence that children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI) have subtle deficits in visual perception, we hypothesized that such subtle deficits would impair their ability to detect the visual-linguistic regularities that afford the shape bias and accelerate object word learning. We compared children ages 4-6 (well beyond the 150 noun stage) with typical language (TL) development and children with SLI in classic shape bias paradigms, and also assessed them on multiple linguistic and nonlinguistic abilities using standardized tests. We also assessed them with a simple paired visual associate (PVA) learning task repeated over 4 days. At the group level, children with TL showed a robust shape bias, and significant learning in the PVA task, while children with SLI failed to exhibit a shape bias and failed to learn in the PVA task. Individual differences analyses of all children revealed that PVA performance was the best predictor of shape bias; in fact, a regression model including only PVA could not be improved by including any other linguistic or nonlinguistic assessment. This suggests that subtle deficits in nonlinguistic domains may contribute significantly to word learning deficits and other deficits observed in SLI. 


March 27, 2014 (LC 104, 4:30 pm)

Audiovisual speech perception in children with autism spectrum disorders

Julia Irwin (Southern Connecticut State University)

In this talk I will present data comparing children with autism spectrum
disorders (ASD) to those with typical development (TD) on auditory, visual
and audiovisual speech perception. Using eye tracking methodology, we
assessed group differences in visual influence on heard speech and pattern
of gaze to speaking faces. There were no differences in perception of
auditory syllables /ma/ and /na/ in clear listening conditions or in the
presence of noise. In addition, there were no differences in perception of
a non-speech, non-face control. However, children with ASD were
significantly less visually influenced than TD controls in mismatched AV
and speech reading conditions, and showed less visual gain (AV speech in
the presence of auditory noise). Further, to examine whether differential
patterns of gaze may underlie these findings, we examined participant gaze
to the speaking faces. The children with ASD looked significantly less to
the face of the speaker overall. When children with ASD looked at a
speaker’s face, they looked less at the mouth of the speaker and more to
non-focal areas of the face during the speech reading and AV speech in
noise conditions. No group differences were observed for pattern of gaze to
non-face, non-speech controls. 


December 2, 2013 (CSB Auditorium, 4:30 pm)

Development Evolving: From Innateness to Epigenesis 

Mark Blumberg (University of Iowa)

With their shared interests in time and change, developmental scientists and evolutionary biologists should be natural allies. But for most of the 20th century, development was banished from mainstream evolutionary thinking. This rift can be traced to the belief that genes determine the bodies and behaviors of adults, thereby rendering development uninteresting and unimportant. But times have changed: Embryos and infants are now widely viewed as vital intermediaries between the adults of successive generations, thereby focusing attention back on the mechanisms of development. Critically, closer inspection of behaviors that were once considered hardwired and innate is yielding a deeper appreciation for the complex cascade by which genetic and non-genetic factors jointly, interchangeably, and reliably reproduce behavior across generations. But still, even as processes of developmental change move to the forefront of biology, many developmental scientists continue to embrace ideas held over from an earlier time. Using examples drawn from a variety of domains, including sensory neuroscience and motor behavior, I will show in this talk how a full consideration of the processes of typical and atypical development, including so-called freaks of nature, will engender a unified and interdisciplinary understanding of change across developmental and evolutionary time.

The video of the talk is available here.


SPRING 2013 Series


April 3, 2013 (LC 108, 4:00 pm)

Incidence, Essence, and Developmental Systems: Biologos in Action

Susan Oyama (John Jay College, CUNY)

Biologos, the “language of language” (information, transcription, translation, etc.) that dominates contemporary gene-talk, is problematic in several ways. Among other things, it supports covert forms of preformationism and essentialism, even though both are supposed to have been banished from biology. By implying that the DNA contains representations of the organism, Biologos works against attempts to deal effectively with nature-nurture contrasts, as well as ongoing attempts to synthesize development with evolution. I argue that the concept of the developmental system offers a fruitful alternative to this complex of deeply traditional habits of thought.

The video of the talk is available here.


March 14, 2013 (LC 108, 4:30 pm)

Perceiving objects by feeling them: Understanding dynamic touch

Alen Hajnal (University of Southern Mississippi)

Haptic perception is the ability to perceive properties of objects through touch and movement.  Stephen and Hajnal (2011) have shown that haptic skills gained in one effector, such as the arm, transfer to other effectors, such as the leg.  I ask whether haptic perception of length transfers from rigid rods to compliant ropes. Fractal analyses of three-dimensional hand motion recordings revealed an intricate picture of exploration styles that contribute to the prediction of trial-by-trial changes in perceived length.


February 28, 2013 (LC 104, 4:00 pm)

How did I pick up that accent? Phonetic convergence in spoken communication

Jennifer Pardo (Montclair State University)

Acoustic and phonetic variability within and between talkers does not arise by chance. Instead, such variation is attributable to a variety of causes including talker physiology, dialect, affect, and social/situational factors. Among the important social functions that speech serves are marking a talker’s identity, signaling their orientation to an interactive situation, and indexing the situational roles of interacting talkers. Studies of conversational interaction demonstrate the influence of such functions on many aspects of spoken communication. In particular, talkers sometimes become more similar over the course of a conversational interaction. The degree of inter-talker phonetic convergence has been found to be influenced by social factors such as talker role and sex. This talk provides an overview of the current state of research on phonetic convergence.


SPRING 2012 Series


April 27, 2012 (CSB Auditorium, 4:00 pm)

Tales of Instinctive Behavior and Experiential Co-dependency

David B. Miller (University of Connecticut)

In recent decades, the emerging field known as “evo-devo” (as in “evolution-development) has generated exciting research on the importance developmental influences on evolution, and vice versa.   The interrelationship between evolution and development necessitates a better understanding of underlying developmental mechanisms.  I shall discuss views of development from a historical perspective and how earlier views have “evolved” into what some refer to as the transactional view of development, a way of thinking about development that captures the inherent complexity of emergent developmental systems.  Part and parcel of this view is the role of nonobvious (or nonlinear) experiential influences on the development of instinctive behavior.   I’ll present examples of how such subtle influences greatly influence behavior and then illustrate this further with my own research on alarm call responsivity of mallard ducklings, which not only portrays nonlinear experiential influences but also multiple pathways toward a common developmental outcome.

The video of the talk is available here.


March 5, 2012 (LC 108, 3:00 pm)

The Fallacies of the Five Senses

Michael Gordon (William Paterson University)

More than 2000 years ago, Aristotle proposed the, now, traditional divisions between the five senses. While these divisions have been perpetuated in modern culture, numerous behavioral and physiological studies would seem to challenge the validity of such a model. Several alternative theories have since been suggested, including divisions based on differences in the types of media detected, the sensory organs, neurophysiological pathways and structures, and phenomenology. Evidence from developmental, neurophysiological, and multimodal behavioral studies is evaluated against these theories to clarify their sufficiency. In conclusion it is proposed that there are ecological constraints on perception and action that have guided what we perceive as the natural sensory divisions, suggesting that sensory divisions are derived from the environments in which we evolved.



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