University Relations

Spring 2014 Colloquia

Thursdays, 4:00 - 5:30 pm, Elliott N119

January 30

Andrew Oxenham, Psychology
"Understanding speech in noise with acoustic and electric hearing."

Abstract & suggested reading

Cochlear implants have the potential to provide hearing to people who would otherwise be deaf, and to allow them to understand speech even without the aid of lipreading. Despite this tremendous success, cochlear-implant users (as well as people with much milder forms of hearing loss) often have great difficulty understanding speech in the presence of noise or other interfering sounds. This talk will review some recent research aimed at understanding normal and abnormal auditory processing of speech with the long-term goal of improving communication abilities of people with hearing difficulties in our noisy everyday acoustic environments.

Suggested reading:


February 6

Matt Chafee & Marc Pisansky, Neuroscience
"Modeling cognitive deficits in animal models of psychiatric disease"

Cellular and network basis of cognitive dysfunction in an animal model of schizophrenia


Schizophrenia is believed to result from a loss of normal synaptic communication between neurons. However, we do not understand how a loss of synaptic function distorts electrophysiological dynamics in cortical neurons and networks to produce the clinical symptoms and cognitive deficits that characterize the disease. To link cognitive deficits in schizophrenia to their underlying neural causes, we have developed a nonhuman primate model of the disease. By blocking synaptic communication at NMDA glutamate

receptors in nonhuman primates, we have been able to replicate behavioral deficits in cognitive control that closely parallel those seen in the patient population. Characterizing neural activity in prefrontal cortex and connected areas during the period of cognitive impairment is beginning to reveal how cortical neuron and network function is disrupted by synaptic failure in the disease state.

Suggested reading:

Social transmission of fear: a tool for understanding empathy in mouse models of psychiatric disease
Empathy entails the ability of an animal to infer the emotional state of another. Such an emotional capacity requires an integrated set of behavioral, affective, and cognitive processes. In humans, disruption of these processes is hypothesized to underlie the social cognition or ‘theory of mind’ deficits evident in schizophrenia, autism, and psychopathy. While the importance of empathy has been exemplified by psychiatric disorders, relatively little is known about its exact neurobiological substrates.

In order to elucidate the origins of empathetic processes in the brain, development and application of non-human models is paramount. Towards this end, evidence has emerged to suggest that lower-order mammals also embody rudimentary forms of empathy and may serve as highly tractable model systems. One of my research projects aims to develop and validate a paradigm for measuring social fear transmission and learning in mice, as well as to examine this empathy-like behavior using intranasally-administered neuropeptides and genetically-modified mouse models. Ultimately, such research may inform our understanding of the neurobiological underpinnings of empathy, as well as the impairments of social cognition in psychiatric disease.

Suggested reading:

February 13

Bérénice Mettler, Aerospace Engineering & Mechanics
"Interaction Models for Human and Autonomous Guidance"



The current focus of my research is on control, perception and planning in interactive tasks such as found when flying in unknown environments, ski racing or performing delicate surgery. Tackling the technical and scientific challenges associated with the design of autonomous systems inevitably raises questions about how humans achieve their skills. Skilled pilots, like virtuoso musicians or accomplished athletes, depend on thousands of hours of systematic training. During that time they exercise a wide array of brain functions ranging from fine motor control, to perception, planning and cognition. This system is challenging to formally characterize and model.

Guidance involves a range of dynamic interactions, encompassing the dynamics of the vehicle and entire human-machine or agent-environment interactions. Therefore, principles from dynamics and control play a central role in shaping the entire system of control, perceptual and planning processes. Instead of attempting to dissect and describe these individual components, my research philosophy has been to experimentally investigate the scope of whole system patterns of interactions and determine how these can be used to delineate and model sub-system processes and their integration. In this talk, I will present an overview of the laboratory facility, experiments, and modeling techniques that are being developed in the Interactive Guidance and Control Lab (IGCL).

Suggested reading:


February 20

Serguei Pakhomov, Pharmaceutical Care and Health Systems

"Quantitative Analysis of Clustering Behavior on Verbal Fluency Tests"



In this colloquium, I will introduce several qualitative and quantitative methods developed for analyzing responses to two standard neuropsychological tests of verbal fluency — phonemic and semantic. On these tests the participants are asked to name as many words as they can in a short time (usually 60 seconds) that either begin with a certain letter of the alphabet or belong to a certain semantic category (e.g. animals). The responses to these tests are widely used to assess the degree of impairment to semantic memory and executive function and are a part of several cognitive testing batteries used in the diagnosis of dementia. Apart from the traditional score consisting of a valid word count, several additional test characteristics have been examined including clustering behavior that results in sequences of words that are similar either semantically or phonetically. The majority of previous studies of clustering behavior relied on manual qualitative determination of cluster, a labor intensive and error-prone process that is not scalable to large samples. I will present several quantitative alternatives to measuring the size of semantic and phonemic clusters based on computational linguistic approaches and discuss their strengths and limitations in the context of developing behavioral biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease.

February 27

Pani Kendeou, Educational Psychology

"The Knowledge Revision Components (KReC) framework: We cannot escape the past but we can reduce its impact"



That students’ knowledge base often contains previously-acquired-but-no-longer correct information that is difficult to change through teaching is well-established. In many learning environments texts actually present correct information that runs counter to students’ inaccurate knowledge. In these instances, learning of new information necessitates knowledge revision. In this talk, I will discuss a series of studies that examine the incremental steps of knowledge revision, detailing its time course and mechanisms during reading comprehension in the context of a new theoretical framework, the Knowledge Revision Components framework (KReC; Kendeou & O’Brien, in press). KReC aligns itself nicely with what we know about knowledge revision in the context of reading comprehension and has implications for research in single and multiple text comprehension, conceptual change, persuasion, and the misinformation effect.

Suggested reading:


Victoria InterranteMarch 6

Victoria Interrante, Computer Science

"Enhancing the realism of virtual experiences through self-embodiment and physical movement"


My research focuses on the development of strategies to enhance the effectiveness with which virtual environments technology can be used for a variety of purposes, from architectural design and visualization to neurocognitive assessment. In this talk I will discuss our current efforts in two key areas: self-embodiment and locomotion.

After briefly reviewing our previous findings on the impact on distance estimation accuracy of providing people with self-embodiments of varying degrees of fidelity, I will outline two different implementation strategies we are currently pursuing to enable more realistic self-embodiment in VR, including the challenges and concerns as well as the benefits we hope to achieve through each approach. As this is very much work-in-progress, however, I will have fewer answers than questions on most points.

Next I will turn to the topic of locomotion. Our current research interest is in determining how to use various capabilities of physical locomotion to best effect in different virtual environment applications. We have developed a redirection controller for a motorized wheelchair, that enables us to use it within the confines of a large room as a sort of low-cost, low-fidelity motion simulator. We have so far concentrated on measuring thresholds for the detectability of a dissociation between the visually presented and physically sensed movements, by movement type and intensity, but going forward we are interested in determining the extent to which, and conditions under which, providing physical motion feedback in VR can continue to be of benefit in supporting spatial cognition under conditions of supra-threshold visual/vestibular conflict.

March 13

Matt ChafeeJonathan GewirtzDavid RedishEmilie Snell-Rood

Panel Discussion: Animal Models in the Study of Cognition

Matt Chafee, Jonathan Gewirtz, David Redish, and Emilie Snell-Rood

Questions for the panel may be submitted to Marc Pisansky - pisansky at

Catherine KotzMarch 27

Catherine Kotz, Food Science and Nutrition

"Brain orexin mechanisms underlying resistance to obesity."


High and low activity rats: elevated intrinsic physical activity drives resistance to diet-induced obesity.

Background: Humans and rodents show large variability in their individual sensitivity to diet-induced obesity (DIO), which has been associated with differences in intrinsic spontaneous physical activity (SPA). Evidence from genetic and out-bred rat obesity models shows that higher activity of the orexin peptides results in higher intrinsic SPA and protection against DIO. Based on this, we hypothesized that naturally occurring variation in SPA and orexin signaling is sufficient to drive differences in sensitivity to DIO, and that brain orexin administration would be sufficient to prevent DIO caused by high-fat diet feeding.

Methods: To test these ideas, orexin expression, behavioral responses to orexin-A, basal energy expenditure and sensitivity to DIO were measured in non-manipulated male Sprague-Dawley rats selected for high and low intrinsic SPA. In a separate study, rats were fed either a high fat diet (HF; 45% kcal from fat) or low-fat diet, and received daily orexin injections (500 pmol) into RLH.

Results: Male Sprague-Dawley rats were classified as high-activity or low-activity based on differences in intrinsic SPA. High-activity rats showed higher expression of prepro-orexin mRNA, higher sensitivity to behavioral effects of orexin injection, higher basal energy expenditure and were more resistant to obesity caused by high-fat diet consumption than low-activity rats. Furthermore, daily injections of orexin peptide in RLH prevented DIO without altering food intake.

Conclusion: These data define a new model of differential DIO sensitivity, the high-activity and low-activity rats, and suggest that naturally occurring variations in intrinsic SPA cause differences in energy expenditure that are mediated by orexin signaling and alter DIO sensitivity. Additionally, orexin therapy to drive physical activity may be considered as a potential therapeutic tool for preventing diet-induced obesity.

Suggested readings:

Long-term, intermittent, insulin-induced hypoglycemia produces marked obesity without hyperphagia or insulin resistance: a model for weight gain with intensive insulin therapy. McNay EC, Teske JA, Kotz CM, Dunn-Meynell A, Levin BE, McCrimmon RJ, Sherwin RS.Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2013 Jan 15;304(2):E131-8.

Behavioral responses to orexin, orexin receptor gene expression, and spontaneous physical activity contribute to individual sensitivity to obesity. Perez-Leighton CE, Boland K, Teske JA, Billington C, Kotz CM.Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2012 Oct 1;303(7):E865-74.

Role of orexin receptors in obesity: from cellular to behavioral evidence. Perez-Leighton CE, Butterick-Peterson TA, Billington CJ, Kotz CM. Int J Obes (Lond). 2013 Feb;37(2):167-74. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2012.30. Epub 2012 Mar 6. Review.


April 3

Alan Love, Philosophy

"Methodological reflections on achieving an interdisciplinary understanding of brain function."

Studies of the brain and cognition are frequently susceptible to the appeal of "large project" solutions (e.g., Human Brain Project, BRAIN initiative, Allen Brain Atlas). While these endeavors are undeniably relevant to solving questions surrounding brain function, they often overshadow the complexity and heterogeneity of the research questions involved, including their relations to one another. In this talk I sketch a conceptual framework for thinking about the structure of scientific problems in studies of the brain and cognition that can capture why successfully prosecuting these studies requires multiple, diverse methodologies, and therefore is inherently interdisciplinary, but also suggests that "large project" solutions can be counterproductive in achieving the desired investigative aims. This exposes a tension between fruitful epistemological strategies and attempts to secure grants in the current funding environment.

Suggested reading:

Love A (2008) From Philosophy To Science (To Natural Philosophy): Evolutionary Developmental Perspectives. The Quarterly Review Of Biology, 83, 1



spring research daySpring Research Day 2014

Thursday, April 10, 9:00am - 4:00pm
The Presidents Room at Coffman Memorial Union

Jeremy Loebach, Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Linguistics, St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN

Perceptual Learning and Cochlear Implants: From Theory to Practice


When an individual receives a cochlear implant (CI) as a treatment for deafness, they undergo an intensive period of perceptual learning in order to learn how to hear. However, the process of perceptual learning is not fully understood, and there is much debate regarding the types of materials that an individual should train with, and how well they will generalize to novel tasks and listening situations. This study investigated the long-term perceptual learning of CI simulations in 194 normal hearing (NH) individuals in order to better understand the mechanisms of perceptual learning, discern which tasks provide the most robust generalization and transfer, and to assess the efficacy of a proposed training program for new adult CI users. The results will be discussed in terms of perceptual learning, interactions between general auditory and speech specific cognitive abilities, and their application to clinical practice.




Adam Johnson, Psychology Department, Bethel University, St Paul, MN

Schema learning and hippocampal representation: A theory of learning and exploration


The hippocampus plays a critical role in spatial look-ahead, single-trial learning, memory consolidation, and imagination. Each of these learning dynamics depends on memory schemas. In this talk, I develop a simple hierarchical Bayesian approach define the contribution of hippocampal schemas to memory tasks. I show how the approach can be used to account for hippocampus dependent, schema-based single-trial learning and variable consolidation times. Next, I extend the schema learning approach to show how the approach can be used to predict novelty preferences in spontaneous exploration tasks. Finally, I discuss the utility of the approach for understanding individual differences in memory task performance and exploration.


Spring Research Day will feature several talks and poster presentations by CCS Predoctoral Members. All are welcome to attend. No registration necessary. Lunch will be provided. Sponsored by the Center for Cognitive Sciences and Coca Cola.

Scott LipscombApril 17

Scott Lipscomb, Music

The influence of a visual information on preference ratings in response to avant-garde musical sound

Scott D. Lipscomb,1 Guerino Mazzola,1 & Erkki Huovinen2

1 University of Minnesota – Twin Cities; Minneapolis, MN, USA
2 University of Jyväskylä; Jyväskylä, Finland

During this session, Dr. Lipscomb will present results of a series of quasi-experimental investigations, the primary purpose of which was to determine whether the presence of a visual component enhances to a significant degree the music listening experience of listener-viewers in response to examples varying in the level of musical complexity (moderately complex traditional examples and highly complex avant-garde examples), genre (jazz and art music), and stimulus presentation condition (audio only, audio with algorithmic visualization, or audio with visual performance data). Results of each experiment will be presented, each building upon the results of the previous. In addition to the primary results sought, the presentation will also address design issues that emerged and were revised in order to improve the reliability and validity of the experimental procedures.

In later experiments, a block design (rather than independent groups) was utilized so that every participant experienced excerpts not only of each musical genre and various levels of complexity, but stimuli representing each of the three A-V conditions enumerated above. Quantitative data in the form of verbal scale responses were collected, along with responses to open-ended questions that revealed participants’ underlying rationales for ratings provided. Results of the investigation revealed a clear preference for less complex music, but also confirmed that adding a visual component (either performance data or algorithmic visualization) resulted in more positive evaluative ratings for avant-garde musical examples. Dr. Lipscomb will address relevant implications of this outcome when introducing music in the classroom that falls outside the “comfort zone” of students enrolled.


April 24

Monica Luciana, Psychology

"Adolescent Brain Development: Normative Trends and Impacts of Substance Use"

Alcohol use in excessive quantities has deleterious effects on brain structure and behavior in adults and during periods of rapid neurodevelopment, such as the prenatal period. Whether similar outcomes characterize other developmental periods, such as adolescence, and in the context of less extensive use is unknown. Recent cross-sectional studies suggest that binge drinking as well as alcohol use disorders in adolescence are associated with disruptions in white matter microstructure and gray matter volumes.

Our laboratory has prospectively followed a cohort of typically developing adolescents from a baseline assessment, where no experience with alcohol was present, across several years, after which some individuals transitioned into regular use. Participants completed structural MRI scans and behavioral assessments. Alcohol initiators as compared to non-users demonstrate altered patterns of neurodevelopment, including greater-than-expected decreases in cortical thickness in the right middle frontal gyrus from baseline to follow-up as well as blunted development of white matter in the right hemisphere precentral gyrus, lingual gyrus, middle temporal gyrus, and anterior cingulate. Diffusion tensor imaging reveals a relative decrease over time in fractional anisotropy in striatal regions as well as tracts that interconnect frontal with posterior brain regions. These changes are accompanied by self- reported declines in behavioral control. Alcohol initiators do not differ from non-users at the baseline assessment. The groups are largely similar in their premorbid characteristics, although targeted examination of the ventral striatal region indicates that nucleus accumbens volumes at baseline are predictive of who goes on to use alcohol during mid-to-late adolescence. Self-reported increases in reward sensitivity are also a risk factor.

We conclude that subclinical alcohol use during mid-to-late adolescence is associated with deviations in neurodevelopment across several brain tissue classes. These deviations are distinct from what is observed for marijuana use, which we have also started to examine. Implications for continued development and behavior will be discussed.

Recommended readings:


May 1

Melissa Koenig, Child Psychology
"How Children Learn from Others: Mechanisms of Epistemic Vigilance"

Suggested readings

May 8

Sophia Sakellaridi, Cognitive Sciences

Behavioral and neural mechanisms underlying the exploration of small city maps

The neural mechanisms underlying spatial cognition in the context of exploring realistic city maps are unknown. In the current study we explore the associations between neural activity and key map parameters. We conducted an experiment in which subjects explored small city maps, exemplifying five different street networks types, in order to locate a hypothetical city hall, while neural activity was recorded continuously by 248 magnetoencephalography (MEG) sensors at high temporal resolution (~1 kHz) and x-y eye position was recorded at a rate of 60Hz.

To assess the relation between the neural activity and map parameters, we calculated the total number of street intersections and the total street length within 6 degrees of visual angle radius centered on instantaneous x-y eye position ("eye's mind"). Before performing any further analysis, the neural time series were rendered stationary and nonautocorrelated by applying an ARIMA model. To examine whether MEG activity is modulated by map parameters, we performed a multivariate multiple linear regression of the prewhitened time series for each street network type, where time-varying MEG signal from 248 sensors was the dependent variable, and the independent variables were the total number of street intersections, the total street length, and the x-y eye positions.

Results revealed statistically significant relations between ongoing neural activity and map parameters. We found that neural processing of map characteristics depends on the street network type. Particularly, processing of the regular street network type involved predominantly the right hemisphere, including posterior areas. On the other hand, processing of more complicated street network types, such as colliding and supergrid, was mainly associated with frontal areas bilaterally. Finally, processing of the street network types containing curved streets (curvilinear and cul-de-sac) involved minimal processing. These results document an orderly neural processing of street information depending of the grid network type.


April 3, 2017-->January 21, 2015