The Cognition group works within the general approach of cognitive science, which brings the ideas and methods of cognitive psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, philosophy, and computer science to bear on the scientific investigation of mental processes and representations. Group members examine language processing at different levels of organization, ranging from speech perception to sentence-level processing, and they examine issues in conceptual structure and cognitive development. Other areas of investigation include executive control and memory, with examination into lifespan development and factors influencing cognitive and brain health. Group members interact at weekly meetings that include talks by outside guest speakers, presentation of ongoing research projects by faculty and students within the group, and discussion of recent papers within the broad area of cognitive science.

Specific topics under investigation include the nature of phonological competence and its interaction with reading ability; interactions between working memory and various levels of structural, conceptual, and discourse knowledge during the processing of spoken and written language; the effects of culture and experience on categorization, reasoning, and conceptual development; the influence of causal knowledge on categorization, memory, and decision making; and the influence of health factors on childhood brain health, cognition, and academic achievement.

Facilities

State-of-the-art facilities are available for the experimental investigation of a wide range of topics in cognition. The group’s laboratories provide computer-based equipment and facilities for preparing and editing visual and auditory materials, including the editing, analysis and synthesis of speech; eye-tracking and other equipment for running online studies of language and cognitive processing; and facilities for conducting studies of categorization and reasoning. In addition to laboratory studies, opportunities exist for field research in conceptual structure and reasoning with both children and adults, and in clinical thinking with health care professionals and patients. Active research associations with other regional and national universities provide additional technical resources and collaborative opportunities.

Faculty

Iris Berent
Specialization: Phonology and Reading
Laboratory: Phonology and Reading Laboratory
Dr. Berent’s research examines the nature of linguistic competence and its origins. Her work seeks to identify the constraints shaping the organization of the language system and determine the extent to which the system is specialized for the processing of linguistic information. Current projects examine speakers’ knowledge of universal phonological constraints on syllable structure. Research in her lab also explores the link between phonological competence and reading ability and disability.

John Coley
Specialization: Categorization, Reasoning and Development
Laboratory: CORE Laboratory
Dr. Coley seeks to answer questions about the basic cognitive processes of categorization, reasoning, and conceptual development. How do we organize what we know? How do we use it to make guesses about what we don’t know? Three themes run through his research. The first, Domain Specificity, is the idea that cognitive processes may differ substantially as a function of what kinds of objects are being thought about. To date his work has focused on the domain of folkbiology, which encompasses how humans conceptualize the natural world of plants and animals, but current work is beginning to systematically examine thinking in other domains. A second theme is Comparative Research. By examining little-studied populations who differ markedly in terms of culture and relevant experience, he hopes to expand the database from which theoretical accounts of categorization and reasoning are drawn, and to work toward identifying universal and variable aspects of these basic cognitive processes. The third theme stresses the importance of a Developmental Perspective. Human cognition is best seen as a dynamic process that is constantly evolving and unfolding over time, rather than a static set of rules or structures. No understanding of cognition is complete without an account of how conceptual processes change over time.

Charles Hillman
Specialization: Kinesiological Psychology, Cognitive Neuroscience, Executive Control
Laboratory: Cognitive and Brain Health Laboratory
Dr. Hillman’s research investigates the relationship between physical activity and other health factors (e.g., fitness, adiposity, diet, hydration) on cognitive and brain health during childhood and across the lifespan. Health behaviors during childhood often track throughout life and have implications for later life health and disease (e.g., cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes). However, absent from public health concerns is the relationship between physical inactivity and other health factors on cognitive health in children. Dr. Hillman’s research has found that both acute and chronic participation in physical activity promotes more effective cognitive and brain function, and increased adiposity may reduce cognitive and brain function, especially when challenged with tasks that require greater amounts of executive control. Accordingly, Dr. Hillman uses a translational approach to study basic aspects of cognition and brain in the laboratory and applied aspects of cognition in schools through changes in academic achievement.

J. Benjamin Hutchinson
Specialization: Cognitive neuroscience of memory and attention
Laboratory: Memory and Attention Laboratory
Dr. Hutchinson’s lab investigates the bidirectional relationship between attention and memory in humans. That is, he aims to better understand how selective attention is able to promote the encoding of episodic memories, as well as how memory retrieval can influence what we attend to in our ongoing perceptual environment. He uses both behavioral (e.g., psychophysics) and neuroimaging (e.g., functional magnetic resonance imaging; fMRI) techniques to better understand when and where these aspects of cognition interact as well as articulate how they are implemented by the brain.

Nancy Kim
Specialization: Causal Reasoning, Concepts and Clinical Thinking
Laboratory: Causal Cognition Laboratory
Dr. Kim studies causal and conceptual thinking, reasoning, and decision-making. Her lab group asks how people’s prior background knowledge and beliefs influence the judgments and assumptions they make about new people and situations. In a substantial subset of her work, she attempts to concurrently address basic issues in cognitive science and applied issues in clinical science and practice. From the perspective of cognitive science, her research addresses how causal and explanatory beliefs are mentally represented and organized, and how this representation affects basic cognitive processes such as categorization, memory, judgments, and decision-making. From the perspective of clinical science, she simultaneously examines how people’s prior knowledge, beliefs, and expectations influence the assessment and diagnosis of medical and mental illness, memory for patients’ symptoms and medical information, judgments of psychological abnormality, decisions about treatment, and prejudice toward and stigmatization of patients.

Stacy Marsella
Specialization: Human Behavior Modeling
Laboratory: CESAR Lab
Professor Marsella’s multidisciplinary research is grounded in the computational modeling of human cognition, emotion and social behavior as well as the evaluation of those models. Beyond its relevance to understanding human behavior, the work has seen numerous applications, including health interventions, social skills training and planning operations. His more applied work includes frameworks for large-scale social simulations of towns and a range of techniques and tools for creating virtual humans, facsimiles of people that can engage people in face-to-face interactions.

Joanne Miller
Specialization: Speech Perception, Lexical Access
Dr. Miller’s research, which lies at the interface of cognitive psychology, linguistics, and speech and hearing science, has focused on how human listeners recognize spoken words. Previous research in the field has shown that the acoustic form of any given word is not constant from utterance to utterance, but changes as a function of such factors as the specific talker who is speaking, the rate of speech, and the context in which the word is produced. Despite such variability, human listeners recognize spoken words with remarkable ease. Over the years, Dr. Miller and her research team have used a variety of experimental paradigms to investigate the perceptual processes that underlie this ability. The results of such investigations constrain theories of normal speech and language processing as well as theories of speech and language disorders, and have implications for the development of human speech technologies.

Neal Pearlmutter
Specialization: Sentence Processing
Laboratory: Sentence Processing Laboratory
Dr. Pearlmutter is interested in sentence comprehension and sentence generation processes, including ambiguity resolution, the use of grammatical constraints and the interaction and timing of use of constraints derived from working memory, real-world knowledge, grammatical knowledge, and frequency information. The goal is to understand both how the meanings of individual words are combined by comprehenders to create the meanings of whole sentences (sentence comprehension), and how sentences are created given a meaning that a speaker has in mind to convey (sentence generation). In investigating these questions, Dr. Pearlmutter uses various methodologies including word-by-word reading, eyetracking, functional neuroimaging (event-related potential recording and event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging), computational modeling, and examination of large text corpora. Some of his current research examines whether comprehenders can consider multiple possible interpretations of a sentence simultaneously, how individual differences in working memory impact sentence understanding, the relationship between the different meanings of a word and its different grammatical possibilities, the neurological bases for the computation of sentence meaning, and the degree to which the intended meaning of different phrases determines the nature of sentence planning processes.