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Fall 2015 Colloquium Schedule

September 18, 2015 – All colloquiums will be held in WGR 311 from 3:30-4:30pm with a reception following immediately afterward in WGR 308. Click on the tabs to see titles and abstracts for each speaker.

Bryce Huebner, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Georgetown University

Title: Looking down and looking out to understand social cognition.

Abstract: Research on implicit social cognition suggests that human behavior is often guided by arational, associative, and automatic systems. But the experimental data supporting this hypothesis are fragile, difficult to replicate, and frequently leave a great deal of the within population variance unexplained. In this talk, I will outline a computational and socially-situated account of implicit social cognition, which helps to address these common worries. I build on insights from the hierarchical predictive processing framework (Friston 2009); and I suggest that although error-driven learning mechanisms play a prominent role in biological cognition, linguistically structured expectations can impose top-down constraints on predictive processing, yielding similarities as well as differences in ideologically relevant forms of thought and behavior. Finally, I’ll conclude with a few thoughts about what this approach to social cognition means for moral agents like us.

Faculty host: Abigail Marsh

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Mikael Heimann, Linköping University, Sweden

Title: Deferred imitation in typical and atypical children–Implications for language and cognition.

Abstract: Deferred Imitation is viewed by many as an early declarative memory-like ability affecting the infant’s ability to learn about novelties and regularities of the surrounding world. In this talk I will present findings from three longitudinal studies on typical children as well as from more focused studies on deferred imitation in children with autism. Together the longitudinal studies cover the age range 6 months to 4 years although the core time window has been 9 to 14/16 months. Findings indicate that DI observed at 9 months predicts both the verbal and non-verbal language as well as cognition at later ages; DI measured early might reflect an early domain general declarative memory ability. For children with autism our studies have revealed difficulties with both DI and elicited imitation, but not spontaneous imitation, compared with both children with Down syndrome and a typical group. This points to the necessity of not equating various measures of imitation since they might reflect different underlying processes.

Faculty Host: Rachel Barr

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Alumit Ishai, Director of the Cognitive Neuroscience Program at the National Science Foundation

Title: Neural Correlates of Object Indeterminacy in Art Compositions.

Abstract: Visual indeterminacy occurs when subjects view apparently detailed and vivid images that resist object recognition. Indeterminate art works invoke an unusual state of awareness in which the formal aspects of perception (form, color) become dissociated from the semantic aspects (meaning, association). In this lecture, I will describe a series of behavioral and fMRI studies in which we used representational and indeterminate art compositions to study object recognition, memory and aesthetic judgment.

Our studies show that subjects identified familiar objects not only in easily recognizable paintings but also in indeterminate compositions in which objects are only suggested. The images rated as more aesthetically stimulating were also more likely to be recalled in subsequent memory tests. Paintings evoked activation across a distributed cortical network, where coherent, cluttered scenes activating more the temporoparietal junction, which mediates the binding of visual features and spatial locations, and meaningless, scrambled paintings evoked imagery-related activation, reflecting the strategy subjects used to resolve the object indeterminacy.

We also found that a short training session on object recognition in cubist paintings, a special class of indeterminate art works, resulted in significant behavioral and neural changes. Trained subjects recognized more familiar objects in more paintings and showed enhanced and differential activation in the parahippocampal cortex. Moreover, trained subjects were slower to report not recognizing any objects, and their longer response latencies were correlated with activation in the fronto-parietal network for spatial attention. Trained subjects, thus, adopted a visual search strategy and used contextual associations to perform the task.

Taken collectively, these studies suggest that the human brain is a compulsory object viewer that automatically sorts indeterminate visual input into coherent images. Our findings also support the ‘proactive brain framework’, according to which the brain uses associations to generate predictions. Art compositions, thus, comprise a special class of stimuli with which various cognitive functions, such as perception, imagery, memory, aesthetic affect, and contextual associations can be investigated.

Faculty Host: Adam Green

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