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  • 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
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    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.

     
  • Ramscar Lab 13:48 on 01.08.2012 Permalink
    Tags:   

    Talks at LSA 2012 

    Friday Morning Session, 11:00 a.m.: Psycholinguistics: Syntax/Discourse

    Richard Futrell (Stanford University), Michael Ramscar (University of Tübingen): German grammatical gender contributes to communicative efficiency

    Sunday Morning Session, 10:30 a.m.: Psycholinguistics Across Level

    Inbal Arnon (University of Haifa), Michael Ramscar (University of Tübingen): Granularity and the acquisition of grammatical gender: How order-of-acquisition affects what gets learned (Cognition article available online)

     
  • Ramscar Lab 15:27 on 10.17.2011 Permalink
    Tags: , , ,   

    Looking for the PLoS Paper on Number Learning? 

    Looking for our award-winning PLoS One paper on how children learn numbers? In the last month, roughly half of Google searchers that stumbled onto this page were doing just that. We’ll save you the trouble of browsing further: find it here!

    Although number words are common in everyday speech, learning their meanings is an arduous, drawn-out process for most children, and the source of this delay has long been the subject of inquiry. Children begin by identifying the few small numerosities that can be named without counting, and this has prompted further debate over whether there is a specific, capacity-limited system for representing these small sets, or whether smaller and larger sets are both represented by the same system. Here we present a formal, computational analysis of number learning that offers a possible solution to both puzzles. This analysis indicates that once the environment and the representational demands of the task of learning to identify sets are taken into consideration, a continuous system for learning, representing and discriminating set-sizes can give rise to effective discontinuities in processing. At the same time, our simulations illustrate how typical prenominal linguistic constructions (“there are three balls”) structure information in a way that is largely unhelpful for discrimination learning, while suggesting that postnominal constructions (“balls, there are three”) will facilitate such learning. A training-experiment with three-year olds confirms these predictions, demonstrating that rapid, significant gains in numerical understanding and competence are possible given appropriately structured postnominal input. Our simulations and results reveal how discrimination learning tunes children’s systems for representing small sets, and how its capacity-limits result naturally out of a mixture of the learning environment and the increasingly complex task of discriminating and representing ever-larger number sets. They also explain why children benefit so little from the training that parents and educators usually provide. Given the efficacy of our intervention, the ease with which it can be implemented, and the large body of research showing how early numerical ability predicts later educational outcomes, this simple discovery may have far-reaching consequences.

     
  • Ramscar Lab 10:14 on 06.29.2011 Permalink
    Tags: ,   

    Number Research takes home CaSL Prize 

    We are very excited to announce that the lab’s research into how children learn number has just taken home this year’s CaSL prize in Cognitive Science, which is sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences, a part of the US Dept of Education. The prize is awarded to the best research “on a topic directly related to cognitive science, in the areas of educational practice, or subject-matter learning.” A final report of the findings has just been published in PLoS One. A press release is available in English and Spanish. Congratulations to co-authors Michael Ramscar, Melody Dye, Hanna Popick and Fiona O’Donnell-McCarthy!

     
  • Ramscar Lab 14:27 on 06.17.2011 Permalink
    Tags:   

    Recent Output 

    This year, five of the lab’s papers were accepted for presentation at the 33rd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society in Boston. These include:

    1. How children learn to value numbers: Information structure & the acquisition of numerical understanding
    2. How pitch category learning comes at a cost to absolute frequency representations
    3. Informativity versus logic: Children and adults take different approaches to word learning
    4. Investigating how infants learn to search in the A-not-B task
    5. Breaking the World into Symbols

    In addition, two abstracts were accepted for presentation at the LSA Workshop “Information-theoretic Approaches to Linguistics.”

    1. The Predictive Function of Prenominal Adjectives
    2. German Grammatical Gender Manages Nominal Entropy

    Thanks to all the hard work from contributing lab members – Richard Futrell, Hanna Popick, Adam November, Joseph Klein, Nikki Aguirre, Linda Diane Ruiz, Edward Suh, Lily Sadaat and Melody Dye!

     
  • Ramscar Lab 16:11 on 04.14.2011 Permalink
    Tags:   

    Scientific American Mind: Why Johnny Can't Name His Colors 

    The May/June issue of Scientific American Mind features an article about the lab’s findings on how children learn to name colors, along with a quick trick for speeding their acquisition. The original “Mind Matters” post on the subject is also available at Scientific American.com, with a helpful comment-and-reply section by the author.

     
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