Centre for Cognitive Science (COGS)


COGS Seminars provide a forum for internationally recognised researchers from all corners of cognitive science research to present and discuss their latest findings. All are welcome to attend.

Autumn 2016

Tuesdays 16:00-17:30


Week 3:

Oct 4   

Biased vocabulary +  visual attention and memory processes = a shape bias: A Dynamic Neural Field model

Larissa Samuelson  
University of East Anglia

From roughly 24-months-of-age, children generalize novel names for novel solid objects to new instances based on similarity in shape (Landau, Smith & Jones, 1988). In this talk, I examine the mechanisms behind both the development of the “shape bias” and its manifestation in real-time via simulations in a Dynamic Neural Field model. In particular, I ask whether the same model that Samuelson et al. (2011) used to demonstrate the role of spatial memory in early word learning also produces a shape bias when taught a vocabulary with the same statistics as the early noun vocabulary. Five sets of simulations capture the emergence of the shape bias from the growing noun vocabulary; differences in the bias depending on specifics of the novel noun generalization task; acceleration of vocabulary development following the training of a precocious bias; and differences in the bias depending on the specifics of the trained words (Perry et. al., 2009), or individual differences in vocabulary (Perry & Samuelson, 2011). Findings support established links between the bias and the developing noun vocabulary and provide insight on connections between visual cognition and word learning biases. I argue the model compares favourably to existing models of word learning and the shape bias on several model comparison metrics (Sims & Colunga, 2013; Christiansen & Chater, 2001).

BSMS 3.07A 

Week 4:

Oct 11

Integration of artificial sensorimotor contingencies signalling magnetic north into human perception of space

Frank Schumann
Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception, Paris Descartes University, France

Sensory substitution and augmentation strive to alter or enhance perception by introducing novel sensorimotor contingencies to the sensory apparatus. However, evidence for sub-cognitive perceptual integration is sparse and has recently been questioned. Notwithstanding meta-modal theories of perception that support both approaches, a particular problem seems to be in the often arbitrary codings in which sensor output is transferred into a substitution signal, and resultant challenges for its perceptual integration. Here I present a novel approach that piggy-backs a geomagnetic afferent signal obtained by a compass on natural (low-level) contignecies of distal events, and leads to fast integration into the human perception of space.

Dr. Frank Schumann is a post doctoral fellow in the ERC project FEEL of J. Kevin O'Regan in Paris. He completed his his PhD, M.Sc. and B.Sc. in Cognitive Science at the University of Osnabrück, working on eye-tracking and visual attention in real-world settings as well as a tactile approach to geomagnetic sensory augmentation, in addition to having studied consciousness and self-Consciousness at the University of Warwick.

BSMS 3.07A 

Week 4: Oct 12

EXTRA SESSION: Wednesday, October 12th, Arts A4 from 13:15 to 15:15

The spur of the moment:  A live exploration of jazz improvisation

Steve Torrance
Centre for Cognitive Science, University of Sussex.  stevet@sussex.ac.uk

Frank Schumann 
Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception, Paris Descartes University, France

Jazz performance is steeped in time-related aspects and complexities. For instance:  much jazz utilizes complex rhythmic patterns and time-frameworks; jazz musicians talk of the precarious, unpredictable, nature of jazz improvisation, alluding to the affectively charged and in-the-moment creation of jazz production; jazz improvisation often involves a counterpoint between fast, reactive cognitive processing, and slower, more deliberative playing.  Improvisatory art more generally can be characterised in temporal terms:  whereas conventional art- or craft-objects involve broadly distinct phases of composition and presentation, in improvised art these two phases are to a greater or lesser extent coalesced. Improvised jazz is a particular example where much of the compositional activity takes place before the audience as the performance unwinds.  

Another important aspect of jazz performance is its interactive character, with a strong tradition of shared improvisation.  Jazz is thus a rich source for studying some recent theoretical perspectives on interpersonal agency. The main theoretical background for our exploration is enactivism and related (‘4 Es’) approaches to cognition and action, that stress lived, dynamic embodiment, and reject a traditional cognitivist ‘informational pipeline’ account.  Rather than viewing sensory input, internal processing and motor output as distinct functional phases, enactivist writings see perception, cognition and action as essentially interlinked in an agent’s ongoing encounter with world and other agents. Much as it is, so we propose, in the ongoing encounter of jazz musicians enacting a ‘world’ of music.

Interestingly, time and co-agency are constitutively linked in both enactivism and jazz. We will examine the temporal dynamics of musician interaction and the temporal exercise of sensorimotor skills, as deployed in jazz playing, as a condition of co-agency.  Working from our backgrounds in enactivist research and our experience as jazz musicians, we use the case of jazz to raise questions concerning enactive relations between artists, and also between artists and audience, in co-constituting the moment of performance.

The presentation will involve short illustrative performances that provide a stimulus to reflect on the possibilities for using music as a tool for quasi-discursive commentary on the collective improvisatory process.  We invite other musicians to join us in the last part of the session.

This presentation is based on a joint keynote delivered at the recent annual  conference on Consciousness and Experiential Psychology (under the auspices of the BPS), delivered in Bristol in September 2016.

Arts A4

Week 5:

Oct 18


Attributing Consciousness

Bryony Pierce
University of Bristol

Philosophers’ criteria for attributing consciousness vary widely.  One reason for this is that conscious processes can be functionally indistinguishable from unconscious or non-conscious processes, from a third-person perspective.  Disagreements also arise because of the lack of consensus within theories of consciousness on what it is for a state or entity to be conscious.  At one end of the spectrum, the existence of our own conscious experience is called into question, and at the other, we are asked to accept that each fundamental physical entity is conscious, or has some kind of protoconsciousness, at least.  I will defend a particular methodological approach to establishing criteria for when, if at all, a certain conception of consciousness – what-it’s-likeness – should be attributed, whether to individual states, oneself, other seemingly sentient beings, or inanimate objects playing relevant functional roles.  I will relate the proposed criteria for attributing consciousness to interface theory, arguing that one important function of consciousness is to act as an interface between cognition and emotion in order to enable behaviour that is responsive to changing needs and circumstances.  This view receives empirical support from work in experimental psychology, which I supplement with theoretical arguments about the need for reasons to be grounded in the qualitative nature of affective responses.


Week 6:

Oct 25




Week 7:

Nov 1


Reflecting Nature - Can art make us feel better?

Mark Ware MFA, Honorary Research Fellow, Brighton and Sussex Medical School
Dr Nichola Street, psychology lecturer and researcher, Staffordshire University


Week 8:

Nov 8


Ed Rex  
Founder & CEO, Jukedeck

Abstract TBA.  From the Jukedeck web site: "Jukedeck is based on state-of-the-art tech we’re building that brings artificial intelligence to music composition. We’re training deep neural networks to write original music, so that you can make customised tracks at the touch of a button. Our system learns how to write music, chord by chord and note by note. This means that every track you create using Jukedeck is truly unique... With origins at Cambridge University, we’re a team of composers, producers, engineers, academics and machine learning experts with a shared passion for music and technology."


Week 9:

Nov 15

The role of consciousness in feedback-guided learning and decision making

Simon van Gaal    
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, University of Amsterdam

Recent studies in Neuroscience and Psychology have revealed that unconscious processes are extremely powerful. Unconscious stimuli have been shown to activate brain regions at all levels of the cortical hierarchy along with all the associated (high-level) cognitive functions, such as response inhibition and task-switching. Therefore, some scientists and philosophers have claimed that consciousness does not play a (major) role in coordinating cognitive functions. Others have claimed the exact opposite. In this talk I will present several neuroimaging experiments aimed at understanding the role of consciousness in higher-level cognition, with a focus on feedback-guided learning and decision-making. It is my hope that these studies will advance our understanding of the scope and limits of unconscious processes and the potential function of consciousness (if any).

BSMS 3.07A 

Week 10:

Nov 22

The Emergent Executive: Exploring the Neural Bases of the Development of Cognitive Control

John Spencer    
University of East Anglia

Executive function (EF) refers to the higher-order cognitive processes that enable flexible shifts of behavior when contextual demands change. Theories of the development of EF face several challenges. First, EF consists of multiple component processes in the adult state, but these processes emerge and differentiate over development. Consequently, theories of EF must explain how each component develops and how these components differentiate and interact to create emerging EF skills over development. Second, given a growing cognitive neuroscience literature on EF, theories must bridge the gap between brain and behavior. Here, I describe a Dynamic Field Theory (DFT) of the development of EF. This theory speaks to the multi-component nature of EF and has shed light on the developmental mechanisms that underlie changes in key component processes as well as how these processes interact. Moreover, the theory has quantitatively captured behavioral patterns from a key EF task in early development—the Dimensional Change Card Sort task. I highlight recent tests of novel behavioral predictions. I also highlight recent work using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to test novel neural predictions. I conclude by discussing recent efforts in my laboratory to develop an image-based analysis approach to fNIRS and to extend our model-based approach to functional neuroimaging using dynamic neural fields.

BSMS 3.07A 

Week 11:

Nov 29

The Computational Stance 

Paul Schweizer 
University of Edinburgh

The relationship between abstract formal procedures and the activities of actual physical systems has proved to be surprisingly subtle and controversial, and there are a number of competing accounts of when a physical system can be properly said to implement a mathematical formalism and hence perform a computation. I defend an account wherein computational descriptions are essentially normative, and where the criteria of success vary according to our human purposes and pragmatic goals. Hence there is no objective or uniform fact to the matter, and I advance the conclusion that computational descriptions of physical systems are not founded upon deep ontological distinctions but rather upon interest-relative human conventions.  Hence physical computation is a ‘conventional’ rather than a ‘natural’ kind.

BSMS 3.07A 

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