Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience

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For more than 100 years, comparative psychologists have sought to understand the evolution of human intelligence. New paradigms for studying cognitive processes in animals—in particular symbol use and memory—have, for the first time, allowed psychologists and neuroscientists to compare higher thought processes in animals and human beings.  New imaging approaches have also facilitated exploring the neural basis of behavior and both animals and humans.  Questions concerning the nature of animal and human cognition have defined the themes of this seminar whose members include specialists in cognition, ethology, philosophy and neuroscience.

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Yaakov Stern
Professor of Neuropsychology, Columbia University, Taub Institute

Herbert S. Terrace
Professor of psychology, Columbia

Gregory Jensen
Columbia University, Psychology



09/19/2013 Faculty House
4:00 PM
On knowing and being known in the 4-month origins of disorganized attachment
Beatrice Beebe, Columbia University
Speaker Link Abstract

Notes: This lecture presents videotapes and frame-by-frame analyses illustrating research on 4-month patterns of mother-infant interaction which predict 12-month infant secure vs. insecure-disorganized attachment outcomes. Remarkable 4-month mother-infant dysregulations of attention, affect, spatial orientation and touch will be shown. Using the results, we make inferences about how 4-month “future” disorganized (vs. future secure) infants come to know, and be known by, mother's mind, as well as to know their own minds. "Mind" is construed as expectancies of procedurally-organized action sequences. The future disorganized infant has difficulty feeling known by his mother, for example as she shows smile/ surprise expressions to his distress (his distress is not shareable). The future disorganized infant has difficulty knowing his mother's mind, for example, as she "closes up" her face and becomes inscrutable. The future disorganized infant has difficulty knowing himself, for example, in his moments of discrepant affect, smiling and whimpering same second.

Participants will become familiar with different patterns of 4-month interaction associated with 12-month secure vs. disorganized infant attachment, with implications for early intervention. Participants will be able to see the subtlety, rapidity and complexity of these early interactions.
10/17/2013 Faculty House
4:00 PM
Intuitive Cooperation and Habits of Virtue
David G. Rand, Yale University
Speaker Link

Notes: Cooperation is central to human social behavior. However, choosing to cooperate requires individuals to incur a personal cost to benefit others. In this talk I will explore the cognitive basis of cooperative decision-making in humans using a dual-process framework. I begin by asking whether people are predisposed towards selfishness, behaving cooperatively only through active self-control; or whether they are intuitively cooperative, with reflection and prospective reasoning favouring ‘rational’ self-interest. I will present a range of evidence from behavioral experiments suggesting that on average, automatic intuitive responses favor cooperation. To explain these results, I propose the Social Heuristics Hypothesis: people internalize strategies that they learn are successful in their daily social interaction. Thus, interacting in environments where cooperation is advantageous (due to effective “rules of the game”) causes individuals to adopt cooperation as their default behavior more generally. I then provide direct evidence for this position by experimentally demonstrating such spillovers. First, I immerse subjects in environments that do or do not support cooperation using repeated Prisoner’s Dilemmas. Afterwards, I measure their intrinsic motivations to cooperate in one-shot games. Subjects from environments that support cooperation are more prosocial with strangers, more likely to punish selfishness, and more generally trusting. Furthermore, this effect is more pronounced among subjects who use heuristics to a great extent, and that baseline play of Boston area college students matches that of our cooperation-supporting environment. These findings help to explain the basis of cooperation in one-shot anonymous settings.
11/21/2013 Faculty House
4:00 PM
Emergence of Complex Communication from Simple Interactions: Lessons from Songbirds and Human Infants
Michael H. Goldstein, Cornell University
Speaker Link

Notes: Despite the immense variety of sounds we associate with the animal world, the ability to learn a vocal repertoire is a rare phenomenon, emerging in only a handful of groups, including humans. To gain a better understanding of the development and evolution of vocal learning, we will examine the processes by which birds learn to sing and human infants learn to talk. A key parallel in the vocal development of birds and babies is the social function of immature vocalizations. The responses of adults to the plastic song of birds and the babbling of babies create social feedback that guides the young towards mature vocalizations. The difficulty of measuring rapid social interchanges organized by immature vocalizing has led many to overlook their importance and assume that young songbirds and human infants learn by passive exposure followed by motor practice. In contrast to the traditional view, my work demonstrates how the immature sounds of young birds and babies regulate and are regulated by social interactions. The statistical structure and timing of these early interactions have strong influences on the development of mature birdsong and language. By creating feedback that is both inherently informative and socially relevant, structured social interaction boosts the salience of acoustic patterns in the input and facilitates learning of speech and song.
12/16/2013 Faculty House
4:00 PM
The Evolution of Speech and Music
W. Tecumseh Fitch,

Notes: My talk will have two parts: First I will consider the implications of a multi-component approach to language for its evolution, considering three different models of protolanguage in this context, including Darwin's hypothesis of a musical protolanguage. Then, I will illustrate how to test such hypotheses, focusing on the evolution of speech, using comparative data from a wide variety of species. From this, I conclude that the relevance of speech anatomy to its evolution has been overestimated, that factors underlying the neural capacity for vocal learning are more central, and that the comparative data lend support to Darwin's hypothesis for the evolution of our ability to imitate and learn a wide variety of sounds.
01/30/2014 Faculty House
4:00 PM
Predicting the Accuracy of a Decision: A Neural Mechanism for Confidence
Michael Shadlen, MD/PhD, Columbia University & Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Speaker Link

Notes: This lecture describes recent advances in our understanding of the neural mechanisms responsible for some forms of decision-making. A common framework, known as bounded evidence accumulation or sequential sampling, explains the speed and accuracy of a decision. Recent studies from our lab suggest that this framework also extends to the assignment of confidence that a decision is likely to be correct. I will describe neural recording and microstimulation experiments from nonhuman primates which reveal a common mechanism underling the speed, accuracy and confidence in a decision.
02/27/2014 Faculty House
4:00 PM
Origins of Charity and Deception in the Brain
Michael Platt, Duke University
Speaker Link

Notes: Human nature is fundamentally contradictory. We are the most charitable species on the planet—often giving to others we don’t even know. We are also the most deceptive—misleading, lying, and cheating to further our own ends. People also differ in how charitable and how deceptive they are. How the brain shapes these behaviors remains poorly understood. In my talk, I will describe recent work using a new model of social cognition in which pairs of monkeys interact through a computer device while we either monitor or manipulate their brains. We found that monkeys favor giving rewards to another monkey, particularly if he is more familiar or subordinate, rather than give the rewards to no one. Oxytocin—a hormone implicated in social bonding—makes monkeys more giving to each other. We also found that giving behavior selectively activated cells in the medial frontal cortex, previously implicated in empathy in humans. By contrast, when monkeys played a competitive game against each other, they rapidly developed unpredictable behaviors, which we call feints, that served to deceive the other monkey. We found that planning feints selectively activated a population of neurons in the lateral frontal cortex. Inactivating these cells impaired the ability to plan behaviors that served to deceive the competitor. To understand the source of individual differences in complex social behavior, we are studying the biology and behavior of a large population of free-ranging rhesus macaques. Our initial studies show that individual differences in social behavior are heritable and are explainable, in part, by differences in genes regulating neuromodulatory function. Together, our findings suggest deep homologies in the biological origins of complex social function, and reveal potential new targets for treating social dysfunction.
03/27/2014 Faculty House
4:00 PM
Last Ape Standing - 27 Human Species Have Evolved, Yet Only One Remains. Why?
Chip Walter,
Speaker Link

Notes: Over the past 150 years, scientists have discovered evidence that at least twenty-seven species of humans evolved on planet Earth. These weren't simply variations on apes, but upright-walking humans who lived side by side, competing, cooperating, sometimes even mating with our direct ancestors. Why did the line of ancient humans who eventually evolved into us survive when the others were shown the evolutionary door?

Our survival was linked to our ancestors being born more prematurely than others, living uniquely long and unusually rich childhoods, and evolving a new kind of mind that made us especially resourceful and emotionally complex led, among other evolutionary twists to us being the last ape standing. The talk will also briefly explore the mysterious "others" who evolved with our ancestors - the Neanderthals of Europe, the "Hobbits" of Indonesia, the Denisovans of Siberia, and the recently-discovered Red Deer Cave people of China who died off a mere eleven thousand years ago.
04/24/2014 Faculty House
4:00 PM
Evolution and Development of the Human Cerebral Cortex
Chet C. Sherwood, George Washington University
Speaker Link

Notes: Since the last common ancestor shared by modern humans, chimpanzees, and bonobos approximately 6-8 million years ago, the lineage leading to Homo sapiens has undergone a substantial change in brain size and organization of the cerebral cortex As a result, modern humans display striking differences from the living apes in terms of cognition and linguistic expression. Many aspects of human neocortical architecture can be understood as the predictable result of scaling up a typical primate brain. Accompanying neocortical expansion, certain higher-order multimodal cortical areas have grown disproportionately relative to primary cortical areas. Anatomical and molecular changes have also been identified that might relate to the greater metabolic demand and enhanced plasticity of the human cerebral cortex. Finally, the unique brain growth trajectory of humans has made a significant contribution to our species' cognitive and linguistic abilities.