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Cognitive Psychology Colloquia



Nathalie Sebanz - Minds in Joint Action

When: 11 March 2020, 1 pm
Where: Faculty of Social Sciences, Pieter de la Court gebouw, Wassenaarseweg 52, room 5A29

Humans are able to perform a wide range of joint actions, from carrying heavy objects together to having conversations. What are the mechanisms enabling joint action? This talk will provide an overview of research that has begun to unravel the behavioural, cognitive, and neural processes supporting joint action planning and coordination. On the one hand, philosophers of action have stressed the importance of forming shared intentions. On the other hand, research inspired by ecological psychology and dynamical systems has stressed the importance of informational coupling mechanisms that support emergent behavioural coordination. The focus on planning on the one hand and coordination on the other raises an interesting question: How are planning processes and coordination processes linked? Recent research in cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience provides some answers to this question. While much of this research has focused on egalitarian dyadic joint actions, new findings also shed light on role and task distributions in more complex group contexts. It will be discussed what we can learn from joint action research for increasing affiliation and cooperation, for improving the design of collaborative robots, and for enhancing our understanding of aesthetic experiences during joint action observation.


Hadas Okon-Singer, University of Haifa - Cognitive-Emotional Biases in Psychopathology: Searching for New Treatment Strategies


When: 18 March 2020, 1pm
Where: Faculty of Social Sciences, Pieter de la Court gebouw, Wassenaarseweg 52, room SA49

Various psychological disorders are characterized by pronounced cognitive biases, including biased orienting of attention to certain stimuli, distorted expectation of the likelihood to encounter specific objects, biased interpretation of ambiguous information and biased perception. Although these biases are common in psychopathology, most of the studies so far focused on one bias by employing traditional analysis methods. Therefore, little is known about the correlational and causal relations between different biases and about combined patterns that may characterize certain disorders. In this talk, I will discuss recent behavioral, fMRI and autonomic data showing links between biases, as well as modulation of biased emotional processing in different populations. Moreover, by employing machine-learning based analysis, we managed to specify specific behavioral patterns that characterize anxiety vs. depression, two disorders that share many characteristics and show high comorbidity. Finally, I will discuss recent evidence for abnormalities in the blood pressure reaction to aversive pictures among individuals with pre-hypertension, a population that is usually not studied in the context of psychological reactions. Taken together, these findings suggest new strategies to explore and treat maladaptive behaviors that have fundamental implications on the patients’ life.


Prof. Christopher Petkov, Laboratory of Comparative Neuropsychology, Newcastle University, U.K. - Evolution of Language and Cognition: Perspectives from Primate Neural Systems


When: 15 April 2020, 1pm
Where: Faculty of Social Sciences, Pieter de la Court gebouw, Wassenaarseweg 52, room SA41

How the human brain specialized for language and cognition is a fundamental question for the brain sciences. In essence, it asks: what makes us unique? Artificial grammar learning tasks have been useful tools in this endeavor because they are non-linguistic and appear to tap into a cognitive system that may have differentiated in certain animals and upon which language further evolved in humans. These tasks allow psychologists to instantiate different types of ‘grammars’ or rules that establish dependencies between otherwise arbitrary sounds or pictures in a sequence. In this talk, I first overview behavioral results using these types of tasks in marmoset and macaque monkeys and humans. We will then together consider neuroimaging findings in monkeys, apes and humans, revealing both evolutionarily conserved function in certain frontal regions and human unique specialization. The observations include a new way of conceiving how the human language pathway (the arcuate fasciculus) evolved. Also, evidence from patient studies with Broca’s aphasics shows that alongside these individuals’ grammatical difficulties are challenges learning artificial grammars at any level, from simple to complex. I conclude by highlighting new directions with Fenna Poletiek implementing more meaningful tasks, currently being explored in humans at Leiden University and in nonhuman primates using touch screens with us.


Annika Boldt - Distinct and overlapping neural correlates of metacognitive monitoring and metacognitive control


When: 29 April 2020, 1pm
Where: Faculty of Social Sciences, Pieter de la Court gebouw, Wassenaarseweg 52, room SA41

Metacognition is the act of reflecting on one’s own mental states, often for the purpose of cognitive control. Previous research has shown that people can accurately report their confidence in their decisions and memories. Research has also investigated how these metacognitive signals are generated and which brain networks encode them. However, we are only just beginning to understand how metacognitive knowledge gets selected to optimise behaviour (metacognitive control). I will present data from a study in which I investigate how metacognition can guide people's decisions to cognitively offload, that is using external aids to reduce the demands of a task. In this context, I then show that metacognitive monitoring and metacognitive control share overlapping brain patterns using a multivariate analysis approach.


Tamar Makin, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, UCL - Homo Cyberneticus: Neurocognitive considerations for the embodiment of artificial limbs


When: 27 May 2020, 1pm
Where: Faculty of Social Sciences, Pieter de la Court gebouw, Wassenaarseweg 52, room SA41

(When) should we all get artificial limbs? Technology is progressing at a remarkable pace, providing us with wearable robotic technologies to substitute, and even supplement, our own limbs, freeing humans from the biological constraints of their own bodies. But can the human brain embody these exciting technologies as new body parts? I will describe very recent neuroimaging and behavioural studies we’ve been conducting in amputees who use prosthetic limbs to substitute their missing hand function. We find that although brain resources originally devoted to body representation can be utilised to represent an artificial limb, the representational features of a prosthesis do not mimic that of a biological hand. These studies provide a first glimpse into neurocognitive opportunities and limitations towards artificial limb embodiment. I will then present ongoing studies examining what happens to people’s (intact) biological body representation after they are provided with robotic augmentation – a Third Thumb. If you want to know what happens… please attend the talk! The bottom line is that our intuitions as scientists (mainly inspired by sci fi culture) tend to fail us when hypothesising on how the brain interfaces with wearable technology, so there are many pertinent open questions that await further research.


Valerio Mante - A bird’s eye view of sensorimotor learning


When: 24 June 2020, 1pm
Where: Faculty of Social Sciences, Pieter de la Court gebouw, Wassenaarseweg 52, room SA41

Motor behaviors are continually shaped by a variety of processes such as environmental influences, development, and learning. The resulting behavioral changes are commonly quantified based on hand-picked features (e.g. syllable pitch) and assuming discrete classes of behaviors (e.g. distinct syllables). Such methods may generalize poorly across behaviors and species and are necessarily biased. In my talk I will present an account of behavioral change based on nearest-neighbor statistics that minimizes such biases and apply it to song development in the juvenile zebra finch. Our new approach reveals multiple, previously unrecognized components of behavioral change operating at distinct time-scales and distinct patterns of overnight consolidation across the behavioral repertoire. Because of their generality, our nearest-neighbor statistics appear well-suited to comparing learning across behaviors and species, and between biological and artificial systems.


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