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Center for Cognitive Science

The Puzzle of the Mind


Academic Programs
Mailing Lists

Spring 2011 Colloquia

Last Update: 7 April 2011, 10:23 A.M.

Note: NEW material is highlighted

Regular colloquia are

Wednesdays, 2:00 P.M. –  4:00 P.M.,


280 Park Hall

(unless otherwise noted), North Campus,

and are open to the public.

To receive email announcements of each event, please subscribe to our Listserv mailing lists.

Background readings for each lecture are available to UB faculty and students on UB Learns.

Once you have logged in to UB Learns, select "Center for Cognitive Science" → "Course Documents" → "Background Readings for Spring 2011".

If you are affiliated with UB and do not have access to our UBLearns website, please contact Gail Mauner,

26 January 2011

Graduate Student Open House

2 February 2011


Communication Sciences Program
Hunter College

The Resilience of Structure in Talk:
Evidence from Language Acquisition and Language Loss


Questions about the existence of abstract, structural representations and processes operating independently of specific content have dominated much research in the psycholinguistics of language comprehension, production, and acquisition. In this talk, I approach this question with data from two "limiting cases": language acquisition by young three-year-olds and language loss by older speakers with Alzheimer's Disease (AD). In the first limiting case, I will present data from a syntactic priming experiment with young children, indicating that young monolingual English children have more abstract sentence-level representations than suggested by lexicalist accounts of language acquisition. In the second limiting case, I will present data from a sentence-repetition task with Italian and English speakers with AD, showing that speakers' knowledge of the fundamental structural properties of their language remains intact, even when much else is lost. I will discuss these data within current debates in linguistics and psycholinguistics, and suggest an integration of these findings within a linguistic framework that operates with representations that are "abstract enough" to capture the linguistic behaviors of speakers, young and old.


  1. Bencini, Giulia M.L.; & Valian, Virginia V. (2008), "Abstract Sentence Representations in 3-Year-Olds: Evidence from Language Production and Comprehension", Journal of Memory and Language 59(1): 97–113.

  2. Bencini, Giulia M.L.; Pozzan, Lucia; Biundo, Roberta; McGeown, William J.; Valian, Virginia V.; Venneri, Annalena; & Semenza, Carlo (2011), "Language-specific Effects in Alzheimer's Disease: Subject Omission in Italian and English", Journal of Neurolinguistics 24(1): 25–40.

9 February 2011

Eduardo Mercado

UB Department of Psychology
and Center for Cognitive Science

Mapping Individual Variations in Learning Capacity


Individual differences in learning capacity are evident in humans and most other animals. Traditionally, such differences are described in terms of variations along a relatively small number of psychological dimensions corresponding to behavioral traits. Here, an alternative approach is considered in which individual differences in learning capacity are characterized by spatially sorting behavioral patterns. To illustrate this approach, a two-dimensional, self-organizing, feature map was used to analyze patterns in the performances of intact and cortically-lesioned rats engaged in multiple learning tasks. After training, the spatial structure of the map revealed systematic variations in learning across rats that were related to the degree of brain damage. Individual nodes within the map described prototypical performance profiles that corresponded closely to patterns of learning seen in individual rats, including individuals with idiosyncratic profiles. Techniques that automatically identify modal patterns of performance during learning may provide new insights into the processes that determine what an individual organism can learn.


Mercado, Eduardo, III (2011), "Mapping Individual Variations in Learning Capacity", International Journal of Comparative Psychology 24: 4–35.

16 February 2011

Werner Ceusters

UB Department of Psychiatry
Ontology Research Group
New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences

Spatiotemporal Reasoning in Referent Tracking Systems:
Why Is It So Hard?


Referent Tracking is a paradigm for representing portions of reality that requires strict adherence to the principles of Ontological Realism and the representational elements offered in the Basic Formal Ontology (BFO) and the Relation Ontology. Whereas BFO provides representational units for repeatable entities, Referent Tracking offers a syntax for describing particulars and their relationships. One principle is that representations should mimic the structure of reality, and this in turn requires keeping track at all times of whether representations are about (1) first-order entities, (2) beliefs, or (3) representations themselves. While building domain ontologies and using these ontologies for data annotation under the BFO constraints is already hard, developing reasoning schemas that can be used to infer on the basis of observations or descriptions what other (non-observed or non-described) entities exist is extremely challenging. We here report on our efforts to develop reasoning schemas for the annotation of situations captured on video, thereby paying in the first place attention to the many pitfalls that come with naïve solutions.


Ceusters, W.; Corso, J.; Fu, Y.; Petropoulos, M.; & Krovi, V. (2010), "Introducing Ontological Realism for Semi-Supervised Detection and Annotation of Operationally Significant Activity in Surveillance Videos", Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Semantic Technologies for Intelligence, Defense, and Security (STIDS 2010), Fairfax, VA, October 27–28.

2 March 2011

Richard L. Lewis

Department of Psychology and Department of Linguistics
University of Michigan

Bounded Optimality in Language, Thought, and Action:
Adaptation under Cognitive Constraint
and Its Implications for Understanding Individual Differences


In this presentation, we explore a theoretical framework that construes cognitive and linguistic processing as boundedly optimal control problems—as rational processes constrained by both the structure of the external environment and the structure and limitations of the cognitive architecture. Underlying the approach are computational methods for evaluating large spaces of possible behavioral strategies in terms of their expected utility given these constraints, rather than their fit to observed data. We demonstrate the generality of the approach through its application to elementary dual-tasking, "fast-and-frugal" decision making, verbal short-term memory, and eye-movement control in reading. A key theoretical payoff is an understanding of individual differences in performance as the empirical signatures of strategies that are adaptations to individually varying processing constraints. We discuss how the framework builds on and complements related approaches, including rational analysis, bounded rationality, Bayesian modeling, architectures, reinforcement learning, and signal-detection theory. The key feature of bounded optimality is the theoretical role assigned to processing constraints: They are used to help define the optimization problem, rather than used to explain departures from optimality.


Howes, Andrew; Lewis, Richard L.; & Vera, Alonso (2009), "Rational Adaptation under Task and Procesing Constraints: Implications for Testing Theories of Cognition and Action", Psychological Review 116(4): 717–751.

9 March 2011

Michael Walsh Dickey

Communication Science and Disorders
School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences
University of Pittsburgh

Automatic Processing and Recovery of Complex Sentences in Aphasia


The production and the comprehension of syntactically complex sentences is impaired in aphasia. For example, both Wh-movement sentences (such as object-extracted, relative clauses) and NP-movement sentences (such as passives) elicit chance performance by adults with aphasia in off-line comprehension tasks like sentence-picture matching. However, it remains unclear how exactly impaired adults try (and often fail) to comprehend such sentences in real time. This talk reviews evidence from a series of studies examining the on-line comprehension of complex sentences by adults with aphasia (Dickey & Thompson 2004, 2009; Dickey, Choy, & Thompson 2007). The evidence suggests that significant residual capacity for syntactic processing remains following brain damage, capacity that may go undetected using traditional, off-line methods. Furthermore, this intact capacity may be what underlies successful response to language treatment targeting complex sentences (Dickey & Thompson 2007). Language treatment that directly stimulates aphasic adults' capacity to use this residual ability has significant evidence of efficacy, and on-line tasks that tap this ability may be useful in predicting treatment outcomes in aphasia (Dickey & Yoo 2010).


Dickey, Michael Walsh; & Thompson, Cynthia K. (2009), "Automatic Processing of Wh- and NP-Movement in Agrammatic Aphasia: Evidence from Eyetracking", Journal of Neurolinguistics 22: 563–583.

6 April 2011

Philip Resnik

Department of Linguistics
Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS)
and Department of Computer Science
University of Maryland

The Linguistics of Spin


Most work on computational analysis of people's attitudes relies on words that express overt opinions, e.g., using the word "awesome" in a movie review as a clue to the fact that it views the movie favorably. However, underlying perspective can also reside in less obvious linguistic choices. The chairman and president of BP America, describing BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill, testified to Congress that "eleven people were lost in an explosion and fire" (May 11, 2010). In contrast, the progressive media outlet Democracy Now! described the "explosion that killed eleven workers" (May 13, 2010). The two statements describe the same event, but they differ in their underlying view of what happened. The difference illustrates how language can be used "to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation". Entman (1993) calls this framing, and deliberately framing in a way that manipulates or deceives is sometimes called spin.

In the first part of this talk, I introduce the idea of grammatical framing, i.e., framing accomplished via choice of grammatical structure. I demonstrate that grammatical framing is fundamentally connected to underlying properties of events that are well known to lexical semanticists, and show how observable syntactic reflexes of those properties can be used, fully automatically, to accurately label a text with respect to its perspective on a topic, even in the absence of overtly opinionated language. In the second part of the talk, I discuss my group's recent work on lexical framing, which includes computational models to detect underlying divergences of viewpoint and the words and phrases associated with those divergences.

This research includes joint work with Stephan Greene, Jordan Boyd-Graber, Eric Hardisty, and Viet An Nguyen.


Greene, Stephan, & Resnik, Philip (2009), "More than Words: Syntactic Packaging and Implicit Sentiment", HLT-NAACL 2009 (Association for Computational Linguistics): 503–511.

13 April 2011

Robert E. Remez

Department of Psychology
Barnard College

I Would Know that Voice Anywhere!
The Role of Phonetic Sensitivity in the Perceptual Identification of Individual Talkers


A listener's ability to identify a familiar talker is often ascribed to sensory samples of the acoustic attributes of vocal quality. In idealizations of this aspect of speech perception, unique, long-term characteristics of the vocal source of acquaintances are represented in a gallery in long-term memory, and such characteristics function as standards for evaluating an unknown signal that challenges the auditory system. The ability to identify a linguistic message inheres in a different set of acoustic properties, those of finer grain that underlie the perception of consonant and vowel sequences used to identify spoken words. Neuropsychological findings of a dissociation between aphasia and phonagnosia suggest a system architecture in which the perception of a linguistic message is independent of the perception of the identity of the talker who produced it. The plausibility of this conceptualization can be assessed in light of our studies of individual identification without recourse to auditory impressions of familiar vocal quality. This evidence shows that phonetic attributes can contribute to the perception and identification of individual talkers.


  1. Remez, Robert E. (2010), "Spoken Expression of Individual Identity and the Listener", in E. Morsella (ed.), Expressing Oneself/Expressing One's Self: Communication, Cognition, Language, and Identity (New York: Psychology Press): 167–181.

  2. Remez, Robert E.; Dubowski, Kathryn R.; Broder, Robin S.; Davids, Morgana L.; Grossman, Yael S.; Moskalenko, Marina; Pardo, Jennifer S.; & Hasbun, Sara Maria (2010), "Auditory-Phonetic Projection and Lexical Structure in the Recognition of Sine-Wave Words", Technical Report (New York: Barnard College Speech Perception Laboratory); Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance (in press).

20 April 2011

Zenzi M. Griffin

Department of Psychology
University of Texas at Austin

Retrieving Personal Names


Personal names differ from object names in being more prone to tip-of-the-tongue states, harder to learn, and particularly vulnerable to deficits with brain damage (for review, see Valentine, Brennen, & Brédart 1996). I will discuss results of a study examining the types of substitution errors parents make in addressing their children, which has been the impetus for further research on the use and processing of personal names.


Griffin, Zenzi M. (2010), "Retrieving Personal Names, Referring Expressions, and Terms of Address", in B. Ross (ed.), The Psychology of Learning and Motivation (San Diego, CA: Elsevier), Vol. 53, pp. 345–387.

27 April 2011

James Beebe

UB Department of Philosophy
and Center for Cognitive Science

Moral Objectivism across the Lifespan


The received wisdom among philosophers has been that practically everyone is an objectivist about moral claims; i.e., they treat the truth or falsity of these claims as being as factual as scientific statements about the physical world. I report results from a series of studies that investigate the degree of objectivity that ordinary people attribute to moral claims, showing that moral objectivism is more likely to be endorsed during some stages of life than others and that some of the factors affecting the degree of objectivity attributed to moral claims include the degree of perceived societal disagreement about an issue and the perceived cultural distance between oneself and the person one is making a moral judgment about.


Goodwin, Geoffrey P.; & Darley, John M. (2008), "The Psychology of Meta-Ethics: Exploring Objectivism", Cognition 106: 1340-1366.

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