9 décembre 2014

Tania Singer: "Training mind and heart: Integrating First- and Third-Person Methods in The Study of Behavioral and Brain Plasticity"


With the emergence of the fields of social-affective and contemplative sciences researchers have started thinking about the challenge to integrate first-person subjective reports with the traditional third-person objective measurements of behavior, brain, and body. A good example for such an integrated approach is plasticity research based on mental training studies. Thus, recent findings have suggested that training of mental capacities such as attention, mindfulness, empathy and compassion is indeed effective and leads to changes in both subjective well-being as well as in brain functions, health, and behavior. As an example for plasticity research, I will introduce the ReSource Project, a large-scale interdisciplinary and multi-methodological one-year secular mental training program that aims at the cultivation of attention, interoceptive awareness, perspective taking on self and others, meta-cognition, compassion, empathy, and prosocial motivation. To achieve these goals, we assessed more than 90 measures in more than 200 subjects including subjective measures and a huge variety of objective data ranging from behavioral, functional and structural brain-, autonomic nervous system- to genetical and hormonal measures. I will present first results of this large-scale study relating to differential pattern of brain plasticity observed after empathy versus compassion versus cognitive perspective taking training respectively. Furthermore I will present training-module specific findings of stress-reduction (i.e. cortisol) and prosocial behavior. Finally, I will use examples of the ReSource Project to highlight challenges related to the appropriate integration of measures of first-person subjective experience and third-person measurements and discuss these in the context of plasticity research in the field of social neurosciences.

25 novembre 2014

Joël Fagot: "Baboons process second-order relations: a case of complex conceptual (analogical) reasoning without language"


Analogical reasoning—the ability to perceive and use relational similarity between two situations or events—is often conceived as fundamental aspect of human cognition. Studies on humans and language -trained chimpanzees suggest that this ability is at least boosted, if not strictly permitted, by a linguistic encoding of the task. I will present several experiments testing guinea baboons on the Relational Matching Task (RMTS), which has the same conceptual structure as standard analogy problems. This task is of the form: Given AA, choose XX over YZ; and given AB, choose YZ over XX. I will show that the baboons can learn this task after extensive training, and will demonstrate that their post-training performance is really based on the processing relations between relations. I will discuss the potential contribution of the (non symbolic) training of baboons to this achievement, in comparison to the symbolic-linguistic experience of children.

28 octobre 2014

Ian Roberts: "Parameter hierarchies and comparative syntax"


This talk looks at a way to break new ground in syntactic theory by reconceptualising the principles-and-parameters approach to comparative syntax, retaining its strengths and attempting to deal with its perceived weaknesses. The central idea is to organise the parameters of Universal Grammar (UG) into hierarchies, which define the ways in which properties of individually variant categories may act in concert; this creates macroparametric effects from the combined action of many microparameters. The highest position in a hierarchy defines a macroparameter, a major typological property, lower positions define successively more local properties. Parameter-setting in language acquisition starts at the highest position as this is the simplest choice; acquirers will "move down the hierarchy" when confronted with primary linguistic data (PLD) incompatible with a high setting. Hence the hierarchies simultaneously define learning paths and typological properties. In this way, the criticism that formal comparative syntax has little to offer typological studies can potentially be answered. Lastly, a more purely theoretical component of the talk aims to show that the nature of the hierarchies is determined, not directly by UG, but by UG interacting with domain-general principles of simplicity and efficiency.

7 octobre 2014

De 11h30 à 13h, salle Langevin, 29 rue d'Ulm, 75005 Paris.

Prof. Daniel Salzman (Columbia University): "Amygdalar mechanisms for innate, learned, and regulated behavior"

Adaptive emotional behavior requires subjects to generate responses to innately rewarding or aversive stimuli as well as to conditioned stimuli whose relationship to impending reinforcement often changes through learning or regulation. Evidence has accumulated implicating the amygdala as a critical structure in mediating these processes. We pursue a two-pronged approach for elucidating amygdalar mechanisms underlying innate, learned, and regulated emotional behavior. First, we use a genetic strategy to identify representations of innately rewarding and aversive stimuli (unconditioned stimuli, USs) in the basolateral amygdala (BLA) and examine their role in innate and learned responses. Activation of an ensemble of US-responsive cells in the BLA elicits innate physiological and behavioral responses of different valence. Activation of this US ensemble can also reinforce appetitive and aversive learning when paired with differing neutral stimuli. Moreover, activation of US-responsive cells in the BLA is necessary for the expression of a conditioned response. Neural representations of conditioned and unconditioned stimuli must therefore ultimately connect to US-responsive cells in the BLA to elicit both innate and learned responses. Second, we examine the neurophysiological mechanisms that may mediate how representations of emotional significance in the amygdala may be regulated. Subjects perform a task in which reinforcement prediction required identifying a stimulus, knowing the context in which the stimulus appeared, and understanding context-dependent reinforcement contingencies. It is commonly assumed that processing in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) helps confer emotional flexibility on this type of task since PFC neurons encode rules, goals and other abstract information. Surprisingly, we discovered that neurons in the amygdala also represents abstract cognitive information. Disappearance of this abstract representation in the amygdala predicts errors in reward anticipation, a finding not observed for PFC. These data emphasize the potential importance of maintaining abstract cognitive information in the amygdala to support the flexible regulation of emotion.

23 septembre 2014

De 11h30 à 13h, salle Paul Langevin, 29 rue d'Ulm, 75005 Paris.

I.E.J. Douven (University of Groningen): "Explanation and Inference"

In my talk, I present two new results regarding the so-called Inference to the Best Explanation (IBE). The first result comes from a comparison of IBE with Bayes' rule in a social setting, specifically, in the context of a variant of the Hegselmann-Krause model in which agents do not only update their belief states on the basis of evidence they receive directly from the world but also take into account the belief states of some of their fellow agents. So far, IBE and Bayes' rule have been studied only in an individualistic setting, and it is known that, in such a setting, both have their strengths as well as their weaknesses. I will show that in a social setting, IBE outperforms Bayes' rule according to every desirable criterion. The second result concerns the descriptive adequacy of IBE. Experimental results are presented which show that people indeed attend to explanatory considerations in updating their degrees of belief.

24 juin 2014

De 12h à 13h30, salle de réunion Pavillon Jardin, 29 rue d'Ulm, 75005 Paris.

Chris Templeton (University of St Andrews): titre TBA

3 juin 2014

De 12h à 13h30, en salle 235A, 29 rue d'Ulm, 75005 Paris.

Franck Ramus (LSCP): "Cognitive differences between the sexes : myth and reality"

27 mai 2014

De 12h à 13h30, en salle 235A, 29 rue d'Ulm, 75005 Paris.

Luigi Rizzi (University of Geneva, University of Siena): "Syntactic computations, the cartography of syntactic structures, and “further explanation” in syntax."

Leçon de clôture de la Chaire Internationale de Recherche Blaise Pascal financée par l'Etat et la Région d'Ile-de-France, gérée par la Fondation de l'Ecole Normale Supérieure.

The main objective of this talk is to illustrate the cartography of syntactic structures, a line of inquiry which has a wide descriptive dimension, and significant implications for syntactic theory and the study of the interfaces with sound and meaning. I would like to start by briefly illustrating the basic ingredients of syntactic computation, first and foremost Merge, the fundamental structure-building operation, and its capacity to generate hierarchical structures. Merge is an extremely simple operation (“take two elements and string them together to form a third element”), but its recursive applications on a rich functional and substantive lexicon quickly produce hierarchical configurations of great complexity. The cartography of syntactic structures is the program which aims at drawing realistic maps of syntactic configurations, maps which do justice to the inherent complexity of such objects. The cartographic projects have been steadily extending their empirical scope over the last fifteen years, and have offered an important new tool for comparative linguistics, as well as for the study of the interfaces with representations of sound and meaning. Here, I will briefly illustrate some of the results of cartographic analysis, with special reference to the work on the initial periphery of the clause and its impact on the study of the informational structure and, more generally, of properties of “scope-discourse” semantics.

In the third part, I would like to address the issue of the “further explanation” of cartographic properties. Syntactic maps express rich descriptive properties such as fixed subsequences, exclusion patterns, the “halting problem” for movement (when certain positions in the map are reached, movement must necessarily continue, while other positions trigger freezing effects and movement must stop), and the like. It is very unlikely that such properties may be primitive ingredients of the human language faculty. A more plausible tack is to try to trace the rich descriptive outcome of cartographic studies to a deeper explanation in terms of fundamental principles of linguistic computations. In this final part, I will illustrate the role of principles operating at the interface with meaning, and of formal principles of labeling and locality in the explanatory endeavor which is prompted by cartographic results.

20 mai 2014

De 12h à 13h30, en salle 235A, 29 rue d'Ulm, 75005 Paris.

Susan Carey (Harvard): "Do non-linguistic creatures have a Fodorian language of thought?"

Philosophers have debated whether some non-linguistic creatures (complex non-human animals/prelinguistic infants) form conceptual representations with propositional content, with a language/like, logic/like combinatorial structure. Some have argued that the answer is clearly NO (Davidson, Bermudez) whereas others have argued that the answer is clearly YES (Fodor). Clearly, this is an empirical question. Taking two case studies (logical connectives; especially not and or, and the abstract relational concepts same and different), I explore how to bring empirical data to bear on this question as well as begin to explore what the question comes to.

13 mai 2014

De 12h à 13h30, en salle 235A, 29 rue d'Ulm, 75005 Paris.

Sudha Arunachalam: "Building a lexicon: How toddlers acquire the meanings of verbs"

Acquiring word meanings is a critical task of early childhood, which toddlers solve by bringing to bear their conceptual, linguistic, and social skills. For some kinds of words, in particular verbs, which will be the focus of this talk, linguistic skills play a critical role, because the meanings of verbs can be partially inferred from the sentence contexts in which the verbs appear (e.g., Gleitman, 1990). I will present several experimental studies investigating toddlers' abilities to use linguistic context--in combination with conceptual and social understanding--in the service of verb learning, and probing the nature and depth of the verb meanings toddlers posit. I will focus on typical development, but will also present some data from children with autism spectrum disorder.

29 avril 2014

De 12h à 13h30, en salle 235A, 29 rue d'Ulm, 75005 Paris.

Tobias Kalenscher (Experimental Psychology, University of Düsseldorf): "The decline of generosity – neural and endocrine modulators of social discounting"

People are generous, but not towards everyone alike: generosity usually declines with social distance between individuals, a process called social discounting. We used fMRI to study the neural basis of social discounting. Participants chose between selfish and generous alternatives, yielding either a large reward for the participant alone, or smaller rewards for the participant and another individual at a particular social distance. We found that neural activation in ventromedial prefrontal cortex and ventral striatum reflected own-reward value, but also the extra value of a generous choice. Generous choices additionally engaged temporal-parietal junction (TPJ). TPJ activity was scaled to the social-distance-dependent conflict between selfish and generous motives during prosocial choice, consistent with ideas that TPJ promotes generosity by facilitating overcoming egoism bias. Moreover, we hypothesized that acute social stress should be one of the modulators of the social discount function. Compared to non-stressed controls, stressed subjects showed higher generosity to socially close partners, but a steeper social discount function. This effect disappeared approx. one hour after stress.

1er avril 2014

De 12h à 13h30, en salle 235A, 29 rue d'Ulm, 75005 Paris.

Peter Gärdenfors (Lund): "Levels of communication and lexical semantics"

The meanings of words are not permanent but change over time. Some changes of meaning are quick, such as when a pronoun changes its reference; some are slower, as when two speakers find out that they are using the same word in different senses; and some are very slow, such as when the meaning of a word changes over historical time. A theory of semantics should account for these different time scales.
In order to describe these different types of meaning changes, I present an analysis of three levels of communication: instruction, coordination of common ground and coordination of meaning. My first aim is to show that these levels must be considered when discussing lexical semantics.
A second aim is to use the levels to identify the communicative roles of some of the main word classes, in particular nouns, adjectives, verbs, and indexicals. I argue that the existence of word classes can, to a large extent, be explained by the communicative needs that arise on the different levels.

About Peter Gärdenfors: he is known for his groundbreaking work on belief revision and belief dynamics (viz. the AGM framework, coauthored with Carlos Alchourron and David Makinson) and for his decisive contributions to the theory of conceptual representations. In 2000, Peter Gärdenfors published "Conceptual Spaces: The Geometry of Thought", MIT Press, 2000. He just published "The Geometry of Meaning: Semantics based on Conceptual Spaces" (MIT Press, 2014), which pursues his program of naturalizing the theory of meaning.

11 mars 2014

De 12h à 13h30, exceptionnellement en salle 235A, 29 rue d'Ulm, 75005 Paris.

Dorothy Cheney: "How to win friends and influence fitness: Lessons from female baboons"

Individuals in many social species of animals form strong bonds with members of their own sex, who are often, but not always, close kin. Recent evidence suggests that such bonds are adaptive, with individuals who form strong bonds enjoying higher reproductive success than those who form weak ones. In wild female baboons, individuals who form close bonds with others exhibit certain ‘personality traits’ that may facilitate social interactions. These females also respond more adaptively to social challenges (for example, the death of a close relative), suggesting that individuals who manifest high rates of affiliative behavior may also be more motivated to anticipate challenges, react adaptively to setbacks, and respond appropriately to social interactions. However, social groups of primates are also highly competitive; females compete with one another for resources, mating opportunities, and male parental care. The need to form and maintain affiliative social bonds within this highly competitive environment may have placed strong selective pressure on the cognitive abilities of primates and other social animals.

4 mars 2014

De 12h à 13h30, exceptionnellement en salle 235A, 29 rue d'Ulm, 75005 Paris.

Amit Almor (University of South Carolina, USA): "The inference theory of discourse reference tracking"

The multiplicity of possible referential forms has been traditionally viewed as a problem that has to be solved during language production and that may call for special strategies during language comprehension. Much existing research has focused on either why certain forms are used in certain contexts (the “why” question), or on how different forms are processed (the “how” question). In my talk I will describe an approach that addresses both questions together and that views the multiplicity of referential form not as a problem but as the solution language offers to a problem created by the constraints of serial communication and the architecture of the memory system that is used for representing discourse. This view shares its emphasis on the balance between cost and function with pragmatic theories such as Relevance Theory and Accessibility Theory that address the “why” question. However, unlike many of these theories, the view I argue for espouses a clear and independently motivated view of computational cost that affects the integrative stage of referential processing. The present view also shares its appeal to memory mechanisms and processing stages with many theories that address the “how” question. However, in contrast to many of these theories, the present view emphasizes the role of semantic representation in working memory and views differences between word classes such as full names and pronouns as driven by these semantic factors and mirroring semantically driven differences between expressions within the same word class (e.g., definite descriptions of varying levels of specificity). More specifically, I argue that the memory system that is used for representing discourse is prone to interference and that the existence of reduced expressions such as pronouns (and null pronouns in some languages) provides an optimized solution for repeated reference with minimal memory interference. In this view, pronouns are the solution language developed to the problem posed by the need to communicate sequentially using limited size informational units that have to be coherently linked, within a memory system that is prone to interferences. I will present the results from several recent behavioral and neuroimaging studies that support this view and link discourse reference tracking to parietal regions that are also involved in spatial attention.

25 février 2014

De 12h à 13h30, exceptionnellement en salle 235A, 29 rue d'Ulm, 75005 Paris.

Zoltan Dienes (University of Sussex): "Using Bayes to get the most out of null results"

User's of orthodox statistics, including psychologists, have typically not interpreted null results in a principled way, resulting in mistaken conclusions and choices of research direction based on non-significant findings. A non-significant result does not distinguish no evidence for an effect from evidence for no effect, radically different states of affairs. The distinction falls out naturally from a Bayesian analysis, in a consistent way that cannot be accomplished with orthodox statistics, even when statistical power is taken into account. I will show how simple free online software for calculating Bayes Factors can be used to determine what a null result is actually telling us. The new tools I introduce in this talk, and now gradually appearing in the literature, should enable publishing null results on an equal footing with significant results. I hope to make people aware of a genuine practical hole in current practice in any domain of psychology and offer a genuine practical solution. The talk will be useful to anyone who uses inferential statistics. No statistical background is assumed other than knowledge of how to do a t-test.

En savoir plus sur Zoltan Dienes.

21 janvier 2014

Philippe Schlenker (Institut Jean Nicod and new york University) & Emmanuel Chemla (LSCP): Monkey Semantics

Based on collaborative work with Kate Arnold, Alban Lemasson, Karim Ouattara, Sumir Keenan, Claudia Stephan, Robin Ryder, Klaus Zuberbühler.

In the last 30 years, field experiments in primatology have yielded rich data on the morphology, syntax and semantics of primate alarm calls. A recent and particularly rich example is afforded by the alarm calls of male Campbell's monkeys: Ouattara et al. 2009a, b suggested that these calls (i) include 4 roots (krak, hok, wak, boom), (ii) one suffix (-oo) which attaches to 3 of the roots (yielding krak-oo, hok-oo, wak-oo), and (iii) possibly one clear syntactic rule (boom appears sentence-initially). We will argue that such data can be illuminated by the general tools of formal semantics and pragmatics. Using Campbell's calls as a case study, we will sketch two possible analyses to handle rich data collected on two separate sites – with surprising cases of apparent dialectal variation.
(We will stress that at this point our enterprise does not entail any claim about the similarity or evolutionary connection between monkey communication and human language.)

Full paper available on LingBuzz

14 janvier 2014

Sue Corkin (Professor of Neuroscience, Emerita): "Permanent present tense: the unforgettable life of the amnesic patient, H.M".

Henry Molaison (H.M.) had a 17-year history of epileptic attacks that were uncontrolled by medication. After unsuccessful attempts to pinpoint the focus, William Scoville performed an experimental operation: bilateral medial temporal lobe (MTL) resection. Immediately, H.M., age 27, showed a dense global amnesia, which became the topic of scientific scrutiny for five decades. Before H.M., the medical literature contained clues that MTL structures were important for “remembering,” but it was H.M.’s case that firmly established this area’s critical role in long-term memory (LTM). He had a severe and lasting deficit in consciously retrieving events and facts, with poor recall and recognition of stimuli in all sensory modalities, and he did not benefit from practice. In contrast, his short-term memory (STM) was intact; he could hold information online for about 30 seconds. His deficit was in converting information held in STM into permanent LTM traces, indicating that different brain systems support STM and LTM. H.M.’s amnesia was pure, in the sense that his intellect was spared. Testing showed a gross disparity between his above average IQ and his subnormal memory performance. His memory disorder was uncontaminated by other cognitive deficits, his language and perceptual capacities were normal, and he had no psychiatric symptoms. Surprisingly, when H.M. practiced a motor-skill-learning task on 3 consecutive days, his error scores decreased, despite his having no conscious recollection of doing the test. This learning without awareness was evidence that LTM processes are dissociable. Subsequent research showed convincingly that H.M.’s nondeclarative learning (motor-skill learning, repetition priming) remained intact, but he could not form new declarative memories for events and facts. This distinction between preserved nondeclarative and impaired declarative processes indicates that MTL circuits are needed for declarative but not nondeclarative memory. Further, he could not recall autobiographical episodes from before his operation, but his general knowledge of his preoperative world was normal. It is hard to overrate the impact of this extraordinary case on psychology and neuroscience. H.M. left lasting traces on memory research and on us.

Suzanne Corkin is Professor of Neuroscience, Emerita in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. She arrived at MIT in the fall of 1964, having just received her Ph.D. in Comparative and Physiological Psychology from McGill University. Her first accomplishment was establishing the Behavioral Neuroscience Laboratory at the newly opened Clinical Research Center. She joined the faculty in 1981 as an Associate Professor. Corkin’s research over the last 48 years has focused on the study of patients with neurological disease, with the goal of linking specific cognitive processes, particularly memory, to discrete brain circuits. She described the long-term consequences of head injury in World War II and Korean War veterans, and the safety and efficacy of a psychosurgical procedure, cingulotomy, in patients with medication resistant psychiatric disease. Her subsequent research focused on the neural underpinnings of age-related degenerative diseases, including Alzheimer and Parkinson. She and her colleagues developed behavioral tasks that elucidated the nature and severity of individual Parkinson and Alzheimer patients’ cognitive and psychiatric deficits, and innovative neuroanatomical labeling tools for visualizing brain regions that are targeted by PD or AD pathophysiology. Corkin also examined the cognitive neuroscience of healthy aging, combining behavioral testing with magnetoencephalography, fMRI, and MRI methods to characterize the neurobiological and information processing mechanisms underlying decreased cognitive control in healthy aging. She is well known for her investigation of the famous amnesic patient, H.M., whom she met in 1962 and studied until his death in 2008. Corkin’s book, Permanent Present Tense, was published in May 2013. Corkin is a Fellow of the Montreal Neurological Institute, the American Psychological Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She received the David Wallace Medal from the Australian Association of Gerontology, the Smith College Medal, a MERIT Award from the National Institutes of Health, and the Baltes Distinguished Research Achievement Award from the American Psychological Association, Division on Aging. She received the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Undergraduate Advising Award in 2011.

7 janvier 2014

Christophe Pallier: "In search of syntactic representations in the brain"