Psychology colloquia Spring 2015

Another School with linguist-relevant talks this term:

School of Psychology
University of Sussex

Psychology Colloquia
Spring and Summer Programme 2015

All seminars are to be held in Pevensey 1 Room 1B3.
Seminars start at 4.00 pm (except where indicated otherwise)


Spring Term Programme

22/01/15 Week 1
      Dr Polly Dalton (Royal Holloway, University of London)
      Host: Dr Sophie Forster                                                                                           

“The cocktail party revisited: Mechanisms of auditory attention and awareness”

In order to function effectively in a complicated world, we need to prioritise relevant information at the expense of irrelevant information. Research into this process of selective attention began with a range of influential auditory studies, but has since tended to focus more heavily on visual mechanisms. I will describe a range of studies asking whether established principles of visual attention also apply within the auditory domain. In particular, I will present an auditory correlate of the well-known ‘inattentional blindness’ effect, as well as addressing the question of whether perceptual load theory (e.g. Lavie, 2005) holds for auditory stimuli.

29/01/15 Week 2
      Prof Gert Westermann (Lancaster University)
      Hosts: Dr Anna Franklin and Dr Jessica Horst

“Learning about objects and words in their first year of life”

A considerable amount of research has addressed the early abilities of infants to form categories of objects. Much of this work has focused on static visual stimuli and it has been found that even 3-4-month-olds can form categories from such stimuli. I will describe research that investigates multimodal aspects of object and category learning. I will address two main questions: first, by what age can infants rapidly link visual and auditory aspects of objects for ecologically valid stimuli? Second, by what age can infants use the names for objects to shape perceptual categories? After describing experimental work I will then present a computational model that provides an account of the mechanisms of integrating visual and verbal information in object category learning.

05/02/15 Week 3
    Speaker: TBC

12/02/15 Week 4
     Prof Kate Cain (Lancaster University)                                                                                         
     Host: Prof Jane Oakhill

“The language bases of reading comprehension: A developmental perspective”

I will present findings from an ongoing longitudinal study of the language bases of reading comprehension in children aged 4 to 9. Issues that will be addressed include: the relative contributions of word reading and listening comprehension to reading comprehension in the early stages of reading development; the relations between different critical oral language skills in this age range; and how these different oral language skills predict reading comprehension outcomes. Implications for the instruction of reading comprehension will be discussed.

19/02/15 Week 5    
    Speaker: TBC

26/02/15 Week 6    
    Prof Michael E. Lamb (University of Cambridge)                                                                                             
    Host: Prof Robin Banerjee

“Helping abused children become effective witnesses”

I will describe how, over the last several decades, research on children cognitive, emotional, social, and communicative development has informed the design and implementation of forensic investigative techniques that had radically transformed our conception of how useful and informative child witnesses can be. When interviewers use these best practice techniques, they are able to elicit richer information that, in turn, changes the disposition of child abuse cases in the criminal justice system.

05/03/15 Week 7              
    Prof Caroline Rowland (University of Liverpool)                                                                     
    Host: Dr Jessica Horst

How do children learn syntax? Evidence from production, comprehension and explanatory models”

Research on syntax acquisition has traditionally focused on debating the extent to which language learning depends on innate knowledge or environmental support. On the one hand, many studies, mainly on speech production (e.g. Pine et al., 1998), have suggested that children start out with pockets of knowledge based round an inventory of item-based frames. This evidence supports an approach that sees syntax development as a gradual process of abstraction across specific instances in the child’s input. On the other hand, a different body of work, mainly on language comprehension, suggests that children use abstract grammatical categories from the earliest age tested (e.g. Gertner et al., 2006). This evidence supports an approach that proposes innate syntactic, semantic or conceptual knowledge at the core of syntax acquisition, and which predicts more rapid learning.

However, recent work suggests that this is a false dichotomy; children and adults have both abstract knowledge and knowledge centred around lexical items at all stages of development. Thus, the traditional approaches are breaking down. What is replacing them is a focus on explanatory models designed to answer a different question: ‘How do the child’s learning mechanisms exploit information in the environment to build mature linguistic knowledge?’ In this talk I use recent work from our lab to demonstrate what this approach has taught us so far about syntax acquisition. I focus on work that demonstrates what kind of learning mechanism best explains developmental differences in structural priming and show how this new approach requires that we factor into our models the mechanisms underlying language processing, since the results of all our studies reflect not only children’s knowledge of syntax, but also the processing constraints that operate when we produce or comprehend language.

12/03/15 Week 8
     Prof Paul Norman (University of Sheffield) 
     Host: Prof Pete Harris
           Title and abstract: TBC

19/03/15 Week 9
     Dr James McCutcheon (University of Leicester)
     Host: Dr Eisuke Koya

“Phasic dopamine signalling and its involvement in reward prediction and hedonic encoding

The neurotransmitter dopamine has for decades been linked to motivated behaviour, in part due to its prominent role in mediating feeding and the pursuit of other rewarding stimuli. However, debate remains as to its precise role, as the majority of experiments have been unable to distinguish various overlapping processes, for example, sensory processing vs. motor generation vs. reward prediction. Equally, although far more studies have addressed dopamine’s role in response to reward, it also seems to be heavily involved in signalling aversive stimuli. 

Here, I will discuss recent experiments in which I have tried to address some of these issues. My studies combine rat behaviour with fast-scan cyclic voltammetry, an electrochemical technique with sub-second resolution. The high temporal precision allows individual dopamine ‘spikes’ to be correlated with specific behavioural events. I will show that the idea that dopamine subserves one function may be outdated. In fact, dopamine signalling plays a far more nuanced role, and is modulated by region, learning, and hedonic processing.

Summer Term Programme

21/05/15 Week 2
        Speaker: TBC

28/05/15 Week 3
     Prof Paul Fletcher (University of Cambridge) 
            Host: Prof Pete Clifton
     Title and abstract: TBC

04/06/15 Week 4
     Prof Charles Spence (University of Oxford)
     Host: Dr Chris Bird

     Title and abstract: TBC

11/06/15 Week 5
     Dr Sander Begeer (VU University Amsterdam) 
     Host: Prof Robin Banerjee

Testing and Training Theory of Mind in autism”

Deviant perspective taking or Theory of Mind (ToM) skills are a central feature of autism. However, the literature is unclear about specific strengths and weaknesses of individuals with autism. This is partly due to the way ToM is measured. Moreover, many treatments for children with autism involve attempts to ‘train’ ToM skills, while the evidence base for these treatments is generally poor. In the current presentation, different ways of testing ToM, and the effects of training ToM in children with autism will be discussed, with specific regard to passive or active social interaction styles of the children. The difference between conceptual and applied ToM skills is highlighted, and the question is raised whether ToM is a proclivity, rather than a capacity.


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