University of Minnesota Cognitive Science PhD student Nicole Scott successfully defended her doctoral thesis "Cognitive and Neural Correlates of Processing Spatial Relations by Humans" on the morning of August 31st, 2015. In attendance were thesis committee members Maria Sera (adviser), Apostolos Georgopoulos (co-adviser), Matt Chafee and Jeanette Gundel, along with many friends and colleagues.
Human cognition has long been thought to exceed that of other animals; however, what it is that makes humans "so smart" continues to be questioned. Gentner argues that language and relational reasoning together elevate human cognition and she takes a developmental approach to support her theory. This project takes a similar approach to Gentner's: I examined the relationship between language and relational reasoning in children, specifically as they are learning the relational terms for right and left as compared to relations for terms that they already know (i.e., above/below). What sets this project apart from Gentner's work is that I also looked at the effect of lateralization on children's performances as well the neural mechanisms underlying these same relational judgments in adults. We know some of the neural mechanisms underlying relational reasoning in humans and monkeys. We do not, however, know whether one set of relations (i.e., above/below) should be advantaged over the other (i.e., right/left) in both verbal and nonverbal modalities. To answer this question, I have developed a set of tasks to examine the following queries: 1) how verbal and nonverbal knowledge of above/below/right/left develops from 5 years to 10 years of age, 2) whether verbal knowledge aids performance on a nonverbal task that requires judgments of these relations, 3) whether strength of handedness promotes either verbal or nonverbal performance, and 4) what the neural correlates of these judgments are.
The chapters are organized to address each question separately. In the first chapter, I give a general overview of the work already done regarding these questions. In Chapter 2, I describe the spatial relational task used to investigate each question. Chapters 3-6 report on the findings from each of my four questions and Chapter 7 provides a general discussion of what this research adds to the current literature.
Overall, my findings suggest that language is not necessary for relational coding to emerge as verbal and nonverbal knowledge of relations follow different developmental trajectories, that lateralization does not aid in learning relations, and that the two sets of spatial relations are represented differently in the brain.
An article by CCS members Thomas Christie and Paul Schrater entitled "Cognitive cost as dynamic allocation of energetic resources" appears in the August 24 2015 issue of Frontiers in Neuroscience: Decision Neuroscience.
Christie ST and Schrater P (2015) Cognitive cost as dynamic allocation of energetic resources. Front. Neurosci. 9:289. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2015.00289
While it is widely recognized that thinking is somehow costly, involving cognitive effort and producing mental fatigue, these costs have alternatively been assumed to exist, treated as the brain's assessment of lost opportunities, or suggested to be metabolic but with implausible biological bases. We present a model of cognitive cost based on the novel idea that the brain senses and plans for longer-term allocation of metabolic resources by purposively conserving brain activity. We identify several distinct ways the brain might control its metabolic output, and show how a control-theoretic model that models decision-making with an energy budget can explain cognitive effort avoidance in terms of an optimal allocation of limited energetic resources. The model accounts for both subject responsiveness to reward and the detrimental effects of hypoglycemia on cognitive function. A critical component of the model is using astrocytic glycogen as a plausible basis for limited energetic reserves. Glycogen acts as an energy buffer that can temporarily support high neural activity beyond the rate supported by blood glucose supply. The published dynamics of glycogen depletion and repletion are consonant with a broad array of phenomena associated with cognitive cost. Our model thus subsumes both the "cost/benefit" and "limited resource" models of cognitive cost while retaining valuable contributions of each. We discuss how the rational control of metabolic resources could underpin the control of attention, working memory, cognitive look ahead, and model-free vs. model-based policy learning.
CCS Member and recent Cognitve Science PhD graduate Dr. Sofia Sakellaridi has a paper appearing in the August 2015 issue of Experimental Brain Research entitled, "Neural mechanisms underlying the exploration of small city maps using magnetoencephalography". Along with her colleagues Peka Christova, Vassilios Christopoulos, Arthur C. Leuthold, John Peponis and Apostolos P. Georgopoulos, Dr. Sakellaridi "conducted a novel brain imaging experiment to test the hypothesis that a network of cortical regions is involved in the processing of spatial information acquired during exploration to make a decision. We recruited 10 subjects and asked them to explore small city maps exemplifying five different street network types (i.e., regular, colliding, curvilinear, cul-de-sac, and supergrid) to build a hypothetical City Hall, while neuronal activity was recorded continuously by 248 MEG sensors at high temporal resolution."
The neural mechanisms underlying spatial cognition in the context of exploring realistic city maps are unknown. We conducted a novel brain imaging study to address the question of whether and how features of special importance for map exploration are encoded in the brain to make a spatial decision. Subjects explored by eyes small city maps exemplifying five different street network types in order to locate a hypothetical City Hall, while neural activity was recorded continuously by 248 magnetoencephalography (MEG) sensors at high temporal resolution. Monitoring subjects' eye positions, we locally characterized the maps by computing three spatial parameters of the areas that were explored. We computed the number of street intersections, the total street length, and the regularity index in the circular areas of 6 degrees of visual angle radius centered on instantaneous eye positions.
We tested the hypothesis that neural activity during exploration is associated with the spatial parameters and modulated by street network type. All time series were rendered stationary and nonautocorrelated by applying an autoregressive integrated moving average model and taking the residuals. We then assessed the associations between the prewhitened time-varying MEG time series from 248 sensors and the prewhitened spatial parameters time series, for each street network type, using multiple linear regression analyses.
In accord with our hypothesis, ongoing neural activity was strongly associated with the spatial parameters through localized and distributed networks, and neural processing of these parameters depended on the type of street network. Overall, processing of the spatial parameters seems to predominantly involve right frontal and prefrontal areas, but not for all street network layouts. These results are in line with findings from a series of previous studies showing that frontal and prefrontal areas are involved in the processing of spatial information and decision making. Modulation of neural processing of the spatial parameters by street network type suggests that some street network layouts may contain other types of spatial information that subjects use to explore maps and make spatial decisions.
LING 8920 Topics in Language and Cognition (3 credits)
12:45 to 1:45 Tuesdays & Thursdays
Elliott Hall S204
Jeanette Gundel, Linguistics
Ling 8920 examines topics in language and cognition from a linguistic perspective. Advances in theoretical linguistics have made important contributions to our understanding of what we know when we know a language; but the precise manner in which linguistic knowledge interacts with other aspects of cognition when it is put to use in communication is still not well understood. The 2015 offering of Ling 8920 will examine this interaction. Questions to be addressed include the following:
In addressing these questions, we will also examine the disruption (and non-disruption) of linguistic communication in individuals diagnosed with autism, Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia. Other topics may also be covered depending on student interest.The class meets an elective requirement for a degree in Linguistics as well as for the Cognitive Science graduate major or minor. Combined lecture and seminar discussion. Weekly reading assignments and comments on readings; final paper/project. Intended audience: graduate students and advanced undergraduates with an interest in language and cognition.
EPSY 8114 Conceptual Change (3 credits)
2:30 to 5:10 Wednesdays
Peik Hall 28
Panayiota (Pani) Kendeou, Educational Psychology
Learning often involves the revision of prior knowledge at the level of systems, at the level of individual concepts, and of course at the level of individual beliefs. This type of learning is known as conceptual change. In this seminar, we will focus on the discussion of current research in the area of conceptual change learning with the aim to advance our understanding of the underlying cognitive processes involved in knowledge revision and their implications for pedagogy and assessment.
Main topics include current theories of conceptual change learning, processes and mechanisms of change, conceptual change in different domains (e.g., science, math, physics), influences of learner characteristics (e.g., prior knowledge, epistemological beliefs, motivation, engagement), instructional approaches for conceptual change, and challenges in conceptual change research. Graduate students are invited to register for the course, regardless of disciplinary background.
SLHS 5900 Language Variation and Change: Applied Issues in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology (1- 4 credits)
9:00 to 12:00 Wednesdays
Shevlin Hall 125
Benjamin Munson, Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences
This course will cover three issues in the study of phonological variation and change that are of particular relevance to the disciplines of audiology and speech-language pathology. The course is divided into three modules. In each module, we will read and discuss research articles, then summarize the implications of these findings for speech-language pathology and audiology. The focus of this course is primarily on variation in the sound structure of language, though variation related to other aspects of language will be touched upon where appropriate.
Requirements: Students will be active participants in this seminar-style course. Students will be responsible for taking charge of the discussion of the articles each week, creating a handout that will guide the class's discussion of the article, and assembling the rest of the class's questions and comments beforehand, and summarizing the discussion afterward (20%). There will be a take-home midterm exam (40%). The final project will be to develop a proposal to conduct original research on one of the topics discussed in the course (40%). This course is designed to be information-rich, reading-heavy, and advanced. This means that students should be prepared to spend the necessary time reading each week's articles and preparing for class. The representative readings below should give students a sense of the prior coursework that they will need to have taken to succeed in this class. At a minimum, students should have had classes in articulatory phonetics (SLHS 3304 or the equivalent), experimental phonetics (SLHS 3305 or the equivalent), language acquisition (SLHS 3303 or the equivalent), and some exposure speech, language, and hearing disorders (SLHS 1401 and SLHS 4801 or the equivalent). Students who are unsure about their prior coursework should contact the professor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The three topics are as follows:
1. The acquisition of socially meaningful phonological variation in the first decade of life. How and when do children and adolescents begin to use distinctive speech styles that convey social attributes like gender, ethnicity, and social-group membership, among others? How does this interact with other aspects of oral and written language acquisition? Is the ability to convey and perceive social categories through linguistic variation reduced in children with primary speech and language impairments, or with speech and language impairments secondary to other neurodevelopmental disorders (i.e., autism spectrum condition)?
2. Social Influences on Speech Perception. What social attributes can listeners glean from phonetic variation alone? How do listeners' beliefs about social attributes about talkers affect low-level perception of sounds and words? How do these influences affect speech perception in clinical situations (i.e., real-time scoring of word-recognition tests by audiologists, assessments of speech and language by speech-language pathologists). How do these processes differ in individuals with speech, language, and hearing impairment?
3. Cross-dialect language processing. How robustly can individuals perceive linguistic forms when presented with a dialect that they don't speak natively? How robustly can individual learn new linguistic forms in a novel dialect? How might cross-dialect interference affect the assessment of speech, language, and hearing disorders (as in a clinician assessing a client who speaks a different dialect)? How might they affect learning in therapy? A strong focus on this section will be primarily on differences between African-American English and mainstream American English dialects.
ANTH 8005 Linguistic Anthropology (3 credits)
9:00 to 11:30 Thursdays
Hubert H Humphrey Center 389
William Beeman, Anthropology
EPSY 8114 Advanced Cognitive Psychology (3 credits)
2:30 to 5:15 Tuesdays
Folwell Hall 6
Sashank Varma, Educational Psychology
LING 5001 Introduction to Linguistics (4 credits)
11:15 to 12:30 Tuesdays and Thursdays
Elliott Hall S204
Tim Hunter, Linguistics
The goal of this course is to provide an introduction to the scientific study of human language. The central question that we aim to address is: what are the mental/biological capacities that enable a person to be a competent language speaker? By the end of the course, students should:
CSci 5511 Artificial Intelligence I (3 credits)
6:30 to 9:00 Wednesdays
Mechanical Engineering 212
Maria Gini, Computer Science & Engineering
CSci 8551 Intelligent Agents (3 credits)
4:00 to 5:15 Mondays and Wednesdays
Keller Hall 3-125
Maria Gini, Computer Science & Engineering
NSC 5040 Brain Networks (4 credits)
2:00 to 4:00 Tuesdays and Thursdays
Elliott Hall S204
Bagrat Amirikian, Neuroscience