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  • Ramscar Lab 17:11 on 02.25.2014 Permalink  

    “Myth of Cognitive Decline” Q&A 

    Provider Magazine has just published a Q&A with Michael on the myth of cognitive decline. Michael discusses the cultural origins of the myth, why overturning it may contribute to the social good, and the public’s reaction to this research. A brief excerpt:

    “the myth has its roots in the way people have tended to think about our minds historically—and in the way that people often still tend to think about their minds. …just as learning to think about our bodies as part of the natural world has helped people understand how to better take care of their physical health, thinking about our minds as part of the natural world can help us make sense of the changes we experience as our minds grow older. “

  • Ramscar Lab 09:59 on 01.21.2014 Permalink  

    New Research Blog 

    In light of the recent press coverage of our ageing work, Michael has started a new blog, to provide more detailed coverage of our research program. The inaugural post — What happens to our minds and memories in healthy ageing? — is now live.

  • Ramscar Lab 20:12 on 01.13.2014 Permalink
    Tags: Aging, Cognitive Decline, , , Memory   

    Ageing research goes to press 

    We are pleased to announce that Topics in Cognitive Science has just released our extended article The myth of cognitive decline: Non-linear dynamics of lifelong learning, with a companion introduction to the research by Profs Wayne Gray and Thomas Hills, who ask: Does cognition deteriorate with age or is it enhanced by experience?

    Abstract for “The Myth of Cognitive Decline”

    As adults age, their performance on many psychometric tests changes systematically, a finding that is widely taken to reveal that cognitive information-processing capacities decline across adulthood. Contrary to this, we suggest that older adults’ changing performance reflects memory search demands, which escalate as experience grows. A series of simulations show how the performance patterns observed across adulthood emerge naturally in learning models as they acquire knowledge. The simulations correctly identify greater variation in the cognitive performance of older adults, and successfully predict that older adults will show greater sensitivity to fine-grained differences in the properties of test stimuli than younger adults. Our results indicate that older adults’ performance on cognitive tests reflects the predictable consequences of learning on information-processing, and not cognitive decline. We consider the implications of this for our scientific and cultural understanding of aging.

    You can check out some of the press at Language Log, The New York Times, National GeographicThe Telegraph, The Independent, Psychology Today (in Fulfillment at Any Age Statistical Life), The Daily Mail, Forbes, The Huffington Post, The National Post, The Times of India, and Gawker. Or listen to the radio segment on the BBC’s World Service. There’s also a lively comment thread over at Reddit Science.

  • Ramscar Lab 16:10 on 01.08.2014 Permalink

    An overdue update 

    A listing of recent talks by Michael on our cognitive aging research:

    • 19th September 2013 — Colloquium: Cognitive Development Center, Central European University, Budapest.
    • 10th October 2013 — Colloquium: Department of Psychology, Warwick University.
    • 15th October 2013 — Colloquium: Department of Cognitive, Perceptual and Brain Sciences, University College London.
    • 23 October 2013 — Colloquium: Cognitive Science Institute at Osnabrück University.
    • 29 October 2013 — Colloquium: Donders Centre for Cognition, Nijmegen University.
    • 13th November, 2013 — Invited talk: Department of Psychology, Indiana University, Bloomington.
    • 15th November, 2013 — Psychonomic Society Annual Meeting, Toronto, Canada.
    • 18th November, 2013 — Invited talk: Department of Speech & Hearing, Indiana University, Bloomington.

    Coming up:

    • 16th January 2014 — Harald Baayen will present our work at the Linguistics Department Colloquium, Berkeley, CA.
    • 23rd January, 2014 — Michael will give a colloquium at the Basque Center on Cognition Brain and Language, San Sebastien.
    • 21st February, 2014 — Michael will give a colloquium for the University of Sheffield’s Psychology Department.
  • Ramscar Lab 20:32 on 12.13.2013 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Overregularization, ,   

    The many curious cases of mouses 

    Error and expectation in language learning: The curious absence of ‘mouses’ in adult speech has just come out in Language, and opens, enticingly enough, with a quote from the Silver Blaze:

    Gregory: “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

    Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime”.

    Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the nighttime”.

    Holmes: “That was the curious incident”.

    –Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

    For more puzzles on learning, morphology, and negative evidence, we turn to the abstract:

    As children learn their mother tongues, they make systematic errors. For example, English speaking children regularly say “mouses” rather than “mice”. Because children’s errors aren’t explicitly corrected, it has been argued that children could never learn to make the transition to adult language based on the evidence available to them, and thus that learning even simple aspects of grammar is logically impossible without recourse to innate, language specific constraints. Here, we examine the role children’s expectations play in language learning, and present a model of plural noun learning that generates a surprising prediction: At a given point in learning, exposure to regular plurals (e.g. rats) can decrease children’s tendency to overregularize irregular plurals (e.g. mouses). Intriguingly, the model predicts that the same exposure should have the opposite effect earlier in learning. Consistent with this, we show that testing memory for items with regular plural labels contributes to a decrease in irregular plural overregularization in six-year-olds, but an increase in four-year-olds. Our model and results suggest that children’s overregularization errors both arise and resolve themselves as a consequence of the distribution of error in the linguistic environment, and that far from presenting a logical puzzle for learning, they are inevitable consequences of it.

  • Ramscar Lab 20:47 on 08.01.2013 Permalink
    Tags: Cognitive Maturation, , , Lexicon,   

    New Articles on Learning and Development 

    This summer, we have two new papers coming out on early learning and development.

    In Child Development, there’s an article on Dual routes to cognitive flexibility, which explores how three-year olds engage in flexible, goal-oriented behavior, in the absence of a mature prefrontal cortex.

    Cognitive control, the ability to align our actions with goals or context, is largely absent in children under four. How then are preschoolers able to tailor their behavior to best match the situation? Learning may provide an alternative route to context-sensitive responding. This study investigated this hypothesis in the Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS), a classic test of cognitive control that most under-fours fail. A training intervention based on learning theoretic principles proved highly effective: Three-year-olds who learned about DCCS rules and game contexts in a card-labeling task, subsequently transferred this knowledge to sorting in the DCCS, passing at more than 3 times the rate of controls (N = 47). This surprising finding reveals much about the nature of the developing mind.

    Then over at Psychological Science, we make a case for why Children value informativity over logic in early word learning, and why that may confer distinct advantages over adult strategies.

    The question of how children learn the meanings of words has long puzzled philosophers and psychologists. As Quine famously pointed out, simply hearing a word in context reveals next to nothing about its meaning. How then do children learn to understand and use words correctly? Here, we show how learning theory can offer an elegant solution to this seemingly intractable puzzle in language acquisition. From it, we derived formal predictions about word learning in situations of Quinean ambiguity, and subsequently tested our predictions on toddlers, undergraduates, and developmental psychologists. The toddlers’ performance was consistent both with our predictions and with the workings of implicit mechanisms that can facilitate the learning of meaningful lexical systems. Adults adopted a markedly different and likely suboptimal strategy. These results suggest one explanation for why early word learning can appear baffling: Adult intuitions may be a poor source of insight into how children learn.

  • Ramscar Lab 14:01 on 05.02.2013 Permalink
    Tags: Workshop   

    What Can We Do With 500 Billion Words? Workshop 

    Last week, Michael served as a workshop panelist at “What Can We Do With 500 Billion Words?”, a mini-conference that brought together linguists and learning theorists, organized by lab alum Melody Dye and Prof Colin Allen. His presentation is now available for download.

  • Ramscar Lab 12:21 on 04.22.2013 Permalink
    Tags: Communication, Information Theory, , , Processing, Production   

    Opinion Piece in Frontiers 

    Frontiers in Language Sciences has just published our commentary on the research question “Does Language Production Shape Language Form and Comprehension?” posed by Prof Maryellen MacDonald. Both her original article and our reply are open access.

  • Ramscar Lab 21:28 on 03.30.2012 Permalink

    NSF Fellowship Winners 

    Congratulations to recent lab alumni and first year doctoral students Ariel James (U. Illinois), Justine Kao (Stanford) and Melody Dye (Indiana).  This year, all three won highly prestigious National Science Foundation graduate fellowships in psychology.  Melody and Justine were awarded fellowships in the cognitive area, while Ariel won in psycholinguistics.

  • Ramscar Lab 08:16 on 02.28.2012 Permalink
    Tags: , , , ,   

    Most Read Articles 

    In 2011, “Learning language from the input” was one of Cognitive Psychology‘s twenty most read papers.  It was in the top five for papers published that year.  Read it here, or take a glance at the companion article, now in press at Language and Cognitive Processes.

    Do the production and interpretation of patterns of plural forms in noun-noun compounds reveal the workings of innate constraints that govern morphological processing? The results of previous studies on compounding have been taken to support a number of important theoretical claims: first, that there are fundamental differences in the way that children and adults learn and process regular and irregular plurals, second, that these differences reflect formal constraints that govern the way the way regular and irregular plurals are processed in language, and third, that these constraints are unlikely to be the product of learning. In a series of seven experiments, we critically assess the evidence that is cited in support of these arguments. The results of our experiments provide little support for the idea that substantively different factors govern the patterns of acquisition, production and interpretation patterns of regular and irregular plural forms in compounds. Once frequency differences between regular and irregular plurals are accounted for, we find no evidence of any qualitative difference in the patterns of interpretation and production of regular and irregular plural nouns in compounds, in either adults or children. Accordingly, we suggest that the pattern of acquisition of both regular and irregular plurals in compounds is consistent with a simple account, in which children learn the conventions that govern plural compounding using evidence that is readily available in the distribution patterns of adult speech.

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