University Relations

Spring 2011 Colloquia


February 3
photo of Michal Mensink, Educational Psychology

"Tornadoes, Tuberculosis, and Monkeys in Space: (Ir)Relevance in Scientific Text Comprehension"

Scientific texts contain a landscape of relevant and irrelevant information. Readers must navigate this landscape in order to create mental representations of text that support learning. One way to help readers navigate this landscape of (ir)relevant information is to give them prereading instructions that help them focus on instructionally-relevant information and away from instructionally-irrelevant information. In this talk, I will present three separate lines of research on the effects of prereading instructions on readers' online processes and offline products when reading scientific texts. In the first set of studies, we investigated whether prereading instructions can be used to focus readers' attention and learning on relevant information as indicated by eye-movements and recalls for scientific texts.  In the second set of studies, we investigated whether prereading instructions can direct readers' attention and learning away from interesting but irrelevant information.  In the third set of studies, currently underway, we are examining how prereading instructions simultaneously impact readers' attention and learning for both relevant and irrelevant/highly-interesting information.  The overall findings from this research will be evaluated from the perspective of dynamic theories of comprehension. Specifically, I will address how research that combines instructional manipulations, such as tasks or goals, with textual manipulations, such as interest or genre, further inform our understanding of how readers process information contained within scientific texts.



  • McCrudden, M. T., & Schraw, G. (2007). Relevance and goal-focusing in text processing. Educational Psychology Review, 19, 113-139.
  • Peshkam, A., Mensink, M. C., Putnam, A., & Rapp, D. N. (in press). When being vague is
  • Peshkam, A., Mensink, M. C., Putnam, A., & Rapp, D. N. (in press). When being vague is valuable: Reader attention to seductive details in text. Contemporary Educational Psychology. doi: 10.1016/j.cedpsych.2010.10.006


February 10
photo of teresa nickTeresa Nick, Neuroscience
"Vocal learning, neurons, and what lies between"

Plasticity of a subset of behaviors, including speech, fear conditioning, and birdsong, is tightly regulated during development. The Nick laboratory is interested in understanding the neural factors that enable and/or prevent behavioral plasticity. They have systematically compared the neural circuits of mature zebra finch songbirds, which sing stable song, with immature finches, which sing plastic song. These experiments have revealed that neural activity during singing and extracellular matrix structures known as "perineuronal nets" are differentially expressed in stable versus plastic neural control networks. Recent work suggests that perineuronal nets may be involved in limiting social modulation of learned song. Further, removal of nets appears to enable social shaping of vocal behavior in previously stable adults. Since atypical social behavior often co-expresses with communication disabilities, these data may illuminate mechanisms that underlie social effects on speech development.


February 17
Ritu Bhatt, Architecture
" Everyday Aesthetics: How Physical Settings Become Cognitive"

Recent developments in neuroscience, phenomenology, somatics, and analytic philosophy of the mind have underscored the correlations between aesthetic cognition, the human body, and everyday life. New insights in the these fields have shown light on the ways in which unconscious processes affect cognition, experiencing art and architecture affects the human brain, and human intention and agency can critically transform and deepen processes of cognition. These revelations have incited an exploration of aesthetics in a realm that is no longer exclusively limited to the sphere of arts. In this talk I will analyze two case studies on everyday aesthetics that provide insights about how and when physical settings become cognitive. Furthermore, I will argue that understanding how design can affect mind-body cognition and vice-versa can help radically rethink the relationship between body and design.


February 24
photo of Jonathan Gewirtz, Psychology

"Agitation of the Storm": Understanding the Relationship between Addiction and Anxiety

Negative emotional states such as anxiety and dysphoria are commonly induced during withdrawal from various classes of addictive drugs. Although they become more severe with protracted drug use, these states can be observed after only limited drug exposure. Indeed, using potentiation of the startle reflex as a behavioral measure in rats, we have found that anxiety is induced during withdrawal from an opiate every time it is delivered, including the first. Thus, anxiety is likely to be an intrinsic part of daily drug‐taking, even in the earliest stages of drug experimentation. I will propose a role for two brain systems in the development of these negative affective states: One involved in mediating fear and anxiety (i.e., the "extended" amygdala) and the other in mediating appetitive behavior (i.e., the mesolimbic dopamine system). I will also describe our work suggesting that a single exposure to an opiate drug produces a remarkably persistent increase in vulnerability to anxiety, involving long‐term changes in endogenous opioid signaling pathways. Further characterizing the mechanisms underlying the negative affective consequences of exposure to addictive drugs may be important in accounting for the strikingly high degree of comorbidity between drug abuse and internalizing disorders (anxiety and depression).


March 3
photo of Michael KacMichael Kac, Philosophy
Dept. of Philosophy and Program in Linguistics

"A Fundamental Divergence Between Language and Music"

I’ll begin by discussing some facts about language, having to do with relatedness of languages and the reconstruction of unattested languages, that have hitherto played no significant role in comparisons of music and language. I’ll argue that the notable absence of comparable results regarding music (that there is no ‘musical philology’) is due to a crucial difference between music and language from the standpoint of structure and the ways in which different musical traditions interact. I’ll suggest some possible reasons for there being such a significant investment in efforts to subsume music under the rubric of language, and I’ll conclude by suggesting an alternative and potentially more fruitful investigative strategy based not on the question ‘Is music a kind of language?’ but on an approach which attributes points of commonality to a shared cognitive infrastructure which also underlies certain other kinds of human activity.



March 10
photo of Colin DeYoungColin DeYoung, Psychology
"The structure and sources of Openness/Intellect: A basic dimension of personality related to cognitive ability and flexibility."

The Big Five personality dimensions were established through factor analysis of large numbers of personality descriptors drawn both from the lexicon and from existing personality questionnaires. They constitute a set of basic traits that account for most variation in emotion, motivation, cogntion, and behavior (at least as described in self- and observer ratings). What the Big Five model lacks, however, is explanatory power; as an empirically descriptive model, it does not indicate the sources of these five broad traits. I will describe a research program utilizing cognitive tests, MRI, and molecular genetics to investigate the psychological and biological sources of one of the Big Five. Openness/Intellect describes the general tendency to be imaginative, curious, perceptive, artistic, creative, and intellectual. The compound label for this trait reflects an old debate about whether it should be characterized as Openness to Experience or Intellect. Research indicates that Openness and Intellect are related but separable aspects of the broader dimension, each equally central. We aim to understand not only the shared sources of Openness and Intellect (which render them parts of a single dimension), but also the unique sources that differentiate them. Openness/Intellect is characterized in terms of cognitive exploration, linked by several lines of evidence to dopaminergic function. More specifically, Intellect is linked to working memory, general intelligence, and the function of prefrontal cortex, whereas Openness is linked to implicit pattern learning and reduced coherence in prefrontal white matter. Openness/Intellect spans cognitive characteristics ranging from madness (apophenia, erroneous pattern detection) to genius and is the trait most reflective of the unique ability of the human species to explore the world in thought and imagination.

  • DeYoung C, et al., 2009, Intellect as Distinct From Openness: Differences Revealed by fMRI of Working Memory, J Personality and Social Psychology Vol. 97, No. 5, 883–892


March 24
photo of bill beemanBill Beeman, Anthropology

In recent years in Japan BA theory has become the subject of much academic discussion in disciplines ranging from physics to linguistics. The term BA (ba) in Japanese literally means "place" or "location" but its symbolic meaning is far more extensive. BA theory, according to one of its primary exponents, Dr. Masayuki Ohtsuka of Waseda University, "can be characterized by the idea of non-separation of subject and object, and non-separation of the self and the other." He continues, "In modern society, we usually think that the subject and the object are separated, and that the self and the other are entirely differentiated. However, in the East, the subject and the object are not clearly separated; even the self and the other have not been considered as clearly separated." For a number of Japanese researchers as well as a few non-Japanese scholars who have begun to consider it, BA theory is seen as the possible basis for a rethinking of the dynamics of social and linguistic interaction on a foundation of Eastern rather than Western thought. In this talk I will take a look at the dynamics of "performance" in human society from the perspective of this theory and try to show that Western thinkers have not been entirely devoid of BA-consciousness in their work. 

On Ba Theory



March 31
photo of Khena SwallowKhena Swallow, Psychology
"The Attentional boost Effect: Goal-Relevant Events Enhance Perception and

Much of what is known about attention has been learned by asking people to search for and respond to pre-specified targets. What is not clear, however, is how detecting goal-relevant events like targets influences the processing of other, unrelated information. In this talk I present recent behavioral and neuroimaging studies that show that target detection triggers more than an attentional response to the target itself. In this research participants perform a target detection task at the same time that they encode a second, unrelated stimulus into memory. Of interest is whether and how the appearance of a target influences performance on the secondary encoding task. The data show that long-term memory, short-term memory, and perceptual recognition for secondary stimuli are better when the encoding stimuli are presented at the same time as a detection target. In addition, recent neuroimaging data indicate that early visual processing areas respond more to auditory targets than auditory distractors. Attending to targets in one task appears to boost processing of and later memory for unrelated information, an attentional boost effect. Additional studies clarify the role of attentional orienting, reinforcement learning, and perceptual grouping in the attentional boost effect.

April 7
photo of Stephanie Carlson, Child Development
"Imagination and the Development of Executive Function"

Although many people think of cognitive control as the antithesis of imagination, pretending is likely to draw upon executive function skills (holding information in mind and manipulating it, inhibiting habitual behaviors, shifting response sets, regulating the self vis-à-vis another perspective). Conversely, when problems are situated in a pretense or symbolic context, increased psychological distance between stimulus and response may allow for more reflective and controlled actions. Evidence from correlational and experimental studies will be presented to suggest that executive function and imagination are intertwined in development in the preschool period. With expertise, however, acts of imagination may come to be experienced as if they are not under conscious control, by both children and adults.


April 14
photo of Aldo Rustichini, Economics

"Toward the Integration of Personality Theory and Decision Theory in the Explanation of Economic Behavior"

We propose steps towards a theory of economic decision making based on the integration of classical decision theory and personality theory. The premise for the theory is the study of the correlation structure between experimental and empirical measures of economic preferences (the standard two-factor theory: attitude to risk and attitude to delayed payments) and a five-factor personality theory (the Big Five), and their predictive power for several key economic and life outcomes, on a large data set that contains information on all of these items for the same subjects. Our results show that personality traits have a stronger predictive power than economic preferences for all the dependent variables, in particular for credit score, job persistence and heavy truck accidents. They also have strong predictive power for Body Mass Index (BMI) and smoking habit. These results show that the integration of the two theories provides the appropriate con ceptual structure for understanding how personality traits affect economics preferences. The results open a clear way of disentangling the effects of cognitive and non cognitive skills on economic behavior and success. For example, cognitive skills, in particular IQ, explain a substantial part of the attitude to time preferences, while IQ together with Extraversion explain attitude to risk. A corollary of the theory is the explanation of how the interplay of cognitive and non cognitive factors can explain economic per formance. For example, a very specific sub-facet of Conscientiousness is a particularly strong predictor of performance in Credit Risk and Accidents.


April 21
photo of Daphne Maurer, McMaster University
"Critical Periods Re-examined: Lessons from Cataract-Reversal Patients"

Children who were born with, or developed, dense, central cataracts afford an opportunity to investigate the effects of visual deprivation in humans. The cataracts are removed surgically and the treated eyes are fitted with contact lenses to focus visual input. When the cataracts were present from birth, many visual abilities fail to develop normally (e.g., acuity; motion perception; recognition of facial identity), a pattern indicating that early visual input is necessary to set up, or preserve, the neural architecture that allows these abilities to be refined later in development. Nevertheless, recent evidence indicates that some visual abilities are spared (e.g., biological motion; face detection) and/or can be rehabilitated long after the critical period (e.g., acuity). Collectively, the results reveal that there are different constraints on plasticity for different visual functions and at different points in development.


April 28
photo of flowersSpring Research Day (in lieu of colloquium)


May 5
photo of flowers Hyun Chae Chung, Kinesiology, Kunsan National University, Kunsan, Republic of Korea

"Postural responses to a moving room in children with and without Developmental Coordination Disorder"

We investigated the postural stability for children with Development Coordination Disorder (DCD). The total of twenty children, eleven children with DCD (< 5th percentile in M-ABC test) and 9 matched control, in the age of 10-11 years( mean age= 10.7 ± 0.5 yr) were participated in this study. Six conditions were created by combining oscillating frequency of a moving room (0.1, 0.2, 0.3 Hz) with amplitude (1 or 2 cm). Anterior-posterior of center of pressure (COPap) during 60 seconds was recorded to evaluate the postural sway induced by visible motion of the room. The last 55 s of each trial was converted to the frequency domain using fast Fourier transform (FFT). The dependent variables were relative phase between body and room, SD phase, coherence, gain of body relative to room motion, positional variability of COP, mean position of COP, and mean maximum spectrum. The analysis of COPap revealed that there was no difference in DCD and TD group in the movement of trajectory of COPap. However, group differences were found at when the room oscillation frequency was 0.3 Hz.
There was the tendency of greater perception-action coupling of body sway and visual stimulus at higher frequencies of room oscillation -- higher gain, lower relative phase difference between room and postural sway. It was pronounced in DCD group.   For the TD group, the amplitude COPap was higher at slow frequency and decreased systematically at higher room motion frequencies, but the DCD group did not. DCD children may not properly scale postural response to perceptual information. In conclusion, DCD children display stronger coupling strength to visual stimuli than TD children. This suggests that vision plays a strong role in the postural control of DCD children.