Seminars

  • Founded
    1986
  • Seminar Number
    603

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.


Co-Chairs
Professor Christopher Baldassano
c.baldassano@columbia.edu

Professor Herbert S. Terrace
terrace@columbia.edu

Rapporteur
Camille Gasser
cg3083@columbia.edu

Meeting Schedule

10/24/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM
The deep roots of language development and evolution (joint meeting with 681)
D. Kimbrough Oller, University of Memphis
Abstract

Abstract

Language emerges in empirically discernible steps, the first of which is recognizable in the vocal activity of infants, who produce massive numbers of speech-like vocalizations (“protophones”) from the first day of life. Based on all-day recordings, we estimate they produce ~3500 protophones/day, 4-5/minute every waking hour, even in the first two months. >90% of protophones are directed to no one, often occurring when infants are alone. Even when parents are instructed to interact with infants, the majority of protophones are not directed to the parents, and deaf infants produce protophones similarly.

Endogenous, exploratory vocalization is a prerequisite to vocal language, because without the ability and inclination to produce sounds flexibly, with no connection to immediate utilitarian needs, one could not begin down a path of development/evolution that could lead to language. Why? Because every act of language, every syllable, every word, every sentence must be accessible at any point time—people must be able to produce each string of speech for a great range of illocutionary intentions or for no social purpose at all. No other ape produces exploratory vocalizations, their repertoires instead serving immediate functions (expressing fear, aggression, affiliation, submission, etc.). Hominin infants are altricial, requiring years of protection and provisioning—consequently there has long been a special selection pressure for them to signal their fitness to potential caregivers. We propose this pressure selected hominin vocal inclinations/capacities that formed a necessary foundation for other developments that led to language.





11/03/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University / Zoom
4:00 PM
Bigger data about smaller people: Studying language learning at scale (Joint meeting with 681)
Michael Frank, Stanford University
Abstract

Abstract

Every typically developing child learns to talk, but children vary tremendously in how and when they do so. What predicts this variability, and what is consistent across children and across learners of different languages? In this talk, I’ll describe our efforts to create predictive models of early language learning as a way of formalizing hypotheses in this space. This goal has led us to create open data resources like Wordbank, childes-db, and Peekbank that capture data from tens of thousands of children learning dozens of different languages.





12/05/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM
Using an associative processing framework in scene understanding to predict behavior and fMRI signal in the brain
Elissa Aminoff, Fordham University
Abstract

Abstract

Visual scenes are rich and complex stimuli that we typically understand in a glance. In many cases, the behavioral and neural mechanisms underlying scene processing are discussed in contrast to the processing of other stimulus categories (e.g., objects, faces). In this talk, I connect the processing of a scene to other types of visual processing (what is a scene without any objects?) as well as to other cognitive domains across the human mind. Using fMRI, I demonstrate that regions of the brain functionally defined as scene selective are also, critically, sensitive to the objects embedded in the scene, thus blurring the lines of categorical selectivity. Moreover, the functional context in which we interact with a scene can modulate the extent to which scene selective regions respond to scene stimuli. I will use fMRI and behavioral data to demonstrate how the functions of scene selective regions of the brain can be explained through an associative processing framework. By using associative processing as a mechanism by which we understand scenes we can predict both behavioral results within vision and how different domains of cognition may interact with scene processing. For example, we demonstrate how one’s mindset can affect their visual processing, or how the associations of a scene can affect face perception or scene memory.





01/23/2023 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM
How differences become different kinds
Marjorie Rhodes, NYU
Abstract

Abstract

Classifying people into categories is a fundamental means by which we make sense of the social world. People can be categorized along countless dimensions, but young children develop beliefs that some ways of grouping people, more than others, reflect fundamental, objective, and meaningful ways of carving up the world. How do beliefs that some particular differences reflect fundamentally distinct kinds develop? This talk will present experimental research revealing how subtle linguistic cues both reflect and elicit representations of social kinds and thus can facilitate their spread across generations and communities. I will illustrate these processes drawing on a series of in-person and online laboratory studies examining the mechanisms underlying the transmission of these beliefs from speaker to listener, as well as on a large field experiment in the New York City Public Schools and on-going longitudinal and cross-cultural work testing how these processes unfold in children’s daily lives.





02/28/2023 Faculty House, Columbia University (tentative)
4:00 PM
TBD
Brenden Lake, NYU




03/20/2023 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM
TBD
Tom Griffiths, Princeton University




04/10/2023 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM
TBD
Grace Lindsay, NYU