2008 Events

Spring Semester





Ann Bisantz , Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, University at Buffalo


Assessment of Display Attributes


for Displaying Meta-Information


In many domains, operators need to understand and act on large volumes of information from a variety of sources. Operators are particularly challenged by the need to reason about the qualifiers of that information.For example, in military command and control tasks, commanders must reason about the location of threats. Information about those threats may come from sensors with associated uncertainties, be several hours (or days) old, and/or be derived from intelligence sources with varying degrees of trustworthiness. These critical data qualifiers are generally not presented, or are not incorporated into the primary information displays used by commanders. To date, we have conducted three studies which have investigated participants’ ability to rank order, rate, and anchor endpoints of graphical representations with respect to levels of meta-information. Across the experiments, it was clear that participants were able to consistently order and rate the representations of meta-information; but that the order direction could be influenced based on the task framing as well as (in one experiment) the type of meta-information. In particular, it appeared that there was a tendency (in the last experiment) for participants to select an order direction so that the level of meat-information that was most task relevant would be assigned a representation that had the greatest contrast with the background. The results from these studies suggest both that graphical characteristics such as color characteristics may be useful tools in representing meta-information on maps; however, designers cannot take the direction of the mapping for granted: instead, they should carefully consider their choice of representation levels according to the context of the task, and value or meaning of the meta-information being presented.


Host: Bill Rapaport


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Brian Cantwell Smith, Faculty of Information Studies, University of Toronto


Rehabilitating Representation


Representation has come in for a bad rap, in recent decades. In this talk I will argue for a radical reconstruction of (something like) representation, in order to: (i) capture what was right and powerful in cognitive science's original representationalist approach -- something that I believe we decry at our peril; (ii) avoid what was wrong -- perhaps even fatal -- about the classical conception; and (iii) do justice to the flood of intuitions that motivate situated, embodied, embedded, social, and even post-structuralist alternatives.




Host: Bill Rapaport


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Roelant Ossewaarde, Department of Linguistics, University at Buffalo


Incorporating an Instance-data


in an Ontology Alignment System


How to Make Use of What's Already There


Automatic alignment of ontologies with different structures is a well-known difficult problem in practical applications. If one ontology contains an assertion 'rowing is-a-kind-of sport', and another contains the assertion 'crew is-a-kind-of sport', how can we reason that 'rowing' and 'crew' are related, even identical?


With the availability of large-scale annotated ontologies on the rise, it becomes feasible to combine multiple sources of information as input to the reasoning process. One such information source may be the objects annotated by an ontology. For example, given a set of books categorized under the heading 'rowing', if a Dutch library categorizes the same books under heading 'roeien', one may conclude with some confidence that 'roeien' and 'rowing' are related, even without any knowledge about the structure of the ontology or about the words themselves.


My paper presents an attempt to incorporate information about such annotated instances in a evaluation initiative that compares different kinds of approaches to ontology alignment. I will show data that indicates that even very naive instance-based ontology alignment systems can be competitive with actual traditional systems that just compare the structure of ontologies or word-similarities.


Host: Jean-Pierre Koenig


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Florian Jaeger, Brain & Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester


Speakers make optimal choices

during language production


Theories of rational cognition (e.g. Anderson 1990; Simon 1990) consider the brain to be close to optimal in terms of efficient information processing. More recently, the idea of optimal information processing has also been applied to language processing (but see recent work by Aylett & Turk 2004; Genzel & Charniak 2002; Hale 2001; Jaeger 2006; Levy 2006). I present a series of studies that support the hypothesis that speakers make optimal choices (within the bounds defined by grammar) when formulating their utterances.


Most of the talk will focus on the link between redundancy and reduction in language production. As speakers encode their intended message into an utterance, they frequently choose between several ways to convey that message, including decision between full and reduced forms at many levels of linguistic processing:


(1) Phonetic & phonological reduction: e.g. full vs. weak vowels, t/d-deletion, syllable omission 

(2) Morphosyntactic reduction

I'm ... vs. I am ... 

He wouldn't ... vs. He would not ... 

(3) Syntactic reduction 

He thinks I am a looser. vs. He believes that I am a looser. 

The guy known to be ... vs. The guy who is known to be ...


It follows from information theoretic considerations that optimal speakers should prefer choices that keep the amount of information1 conveyed per unit uniform (the hypothesis of Uniform Information Density, Jaeger 2006; Levy & Jaeger 2006). For reducible structures (e.g. (1-3)), Uniform Information Density predicts that speakers are more likely to choose the full form (e.g. am) rather than the reduced form (e.g. Ôm) the more information the reducible unit contains. I present evidence for Uniform Information Density from corpus studies on syntactic and morpho-syntactic reduction in spontaneous speech. I conclude that the computational system underlying language production is - at least to some extent - optimized.



I will also present preliminary results from an ongoing study on the role of information content in speakers' planning beyond the level of the clause. The results provide evidence that (a) speakers prefer to split messages that contain a lot of information into several clauses, keeping the amount of information per clause relatively uniform, and (b) speakers 

make this decision early during utterance planning (prior to linearization).


If time permits, I will close by presenting data from an ongoing production experiment investigating the consequences of apparently 'suboptimal' choices in sentence production.


1Information theory defines the Shannon information content of a unit (e.g. a word) as the logarithm of the inverse of the probability of that unit in its context (Shannon 1948). This makes it possible to estimate the information of a word (e.g. from corpora or closes studies).




Host: Jean-Pierre Koenig


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Barry Smith, Department of Philosophy, University at Buffalo


Towards Ontology of Science


The Star Trek Prime Directive asserts that it is the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution; no Star Fleet personnel may interfere with the healthy development of alien life and culture. Such interference includes the introduction of superior knowledge, strength, or technology to a world whose society is incapable of handling such advantages wisely. In philosophy, this Prime Directive translates into the rule that philosophers of science should not interfere with the work of the scientists themselves. Rather, they should observe, comment and theorize from the outside. I will argue against this philosophical Prime Directive, and show how it is already being violated.


Hosts: Bill Rapaport


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Peter Pfordresher, Department of Psychology, University at Buffalo


Modeling Retrieval in Sequence Production


When people produce long, complex action sequences they simultaneously engage in memory retrieval and production. Due to these task demands, and basic limitations of working memory, all sequence events are not retrieved simultaneously. At the same time, due to the temporal demands of production events are not retrieved one at a time. Instead, producers have access to a subset of sequence events at any point in time. I will describe a model that characterizes the sequence events that are accessible in production as the joint product of working memory limits and event-based similarity relationships. The model predicts patterns of serial ordering errors made in production that arise from competing activations that occur in the course of retrieval. To date the model's predictions have been tested on the production of musical sequences, though some data suggest that its predictions may generalize to speech. The model predicts working memory constraints based on production rate that lead to a speed accuracy trade-off that has been tested in a recent experiment. I will discuss these previous fits of the model and will also propose future directions that include comparisons between different similarity metrics, differential weighting of past and future events, and the possible inclusion of a feedback component to the model.


Host:Bill Rapaport


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Peter Ludlow, Department of Philosophy, University of Toronto


Linguistic Intuitions Judgments


Linguists appeal to many sources of data in their theorizing, but none are| quite as contentious as so-called linguistic intuitions. My central claim will be that the controversy about linguistic intuitions is simply due to a number of misunderstandings, chief among them being the idea that linguistic intuitions are objects in the Cartesian theater of the mind - quales of acceptability as it were. In contrast, we can take a leaf from Timothy Williamson and maintain that an intuition that P is simply a judgment that P. In particular, if I have the intuition that a particular form is acceptable I am judging that it is acceptable.


Drawing on work by Bogen and Woodward, I'll argue that linguistic data (judgments) provide *evidence for* phenomena (like binding facts or "island effects") which are *explained by* the theory of grammar.


Host:Bill Rapaport


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Thomas Bittner (Department of Philosophy), University at Buffalo


Ontology and Qualitative Medical Images Analysis


I describe a methodology for the analysis of radiographic images which is based on two major techniques: (1) qualitative geometric abstraction and ontological analysis of anatomical structures. The first technique is a bottom-up approach to extract qualitative spatial relations from medical radiographic images and the second technique is a top-down approach to determine which qualitative relations can possibly hold between the parts of (normal and pathological) anatomical structures. The process of image analysis is both a process of feature extraction, and the extraction of qualitative relations among features. These qualitative relations are then used to classify the images within the space of ontological possibilities.




Host:Bill Rapaport


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  Barbra Zupan, Department of Communicative Disorders & Sciences, University at Buffalo

Bimodal perception of visual and auditory expressions of emotion from early childhood to early adulthood


Emotion is multi-faceted and conveyed through verbal and nonverbal language, particularly the face and voice. Research has focused on single modality processing so little is known about how bimodal cues of emotion are integrated. Additionally, children and adults have been shown to present with different processing preferences during speech perception but these modality preferences have not been examined in emotion processing. The specific aims of this study are to 1) examine modality preferences in processing of congruent and incongruent visual and vocal cues of emotion; 2) compare responses of children and adults to examine perceptual preferences.




Host: Bill Rapaport


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  Paul Thagard, Department of Philosophy, University of Waterloo 



This talk proposes a theory of how conscious emotional experience is produced by the brain as the result of many interacting brain areas coordinated in working memory. These brain areas integrate perceptions of bodily states of an organism with cognitive appraisals of its current situation. Emotions are neural processes that represent the overall cognitive and somatic state of the organism. Conscious experience arises when neural representations achieve high activation as part of working memory. This theory explains numerous phenomena concerning emotional consciousness, including differentiation, integration, intensity, valence, and change.


Host: Bill Rapaport


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  Douglas Clements & Julie Sarama, Department of Learning and Instruction, University at Buffalo

Scaling Up Interventions Based on Research

The Building Blocks and TRIAD Projects


The Building Blocks project was a curriculum research-and-development project based on research in cognitive science and mathematics education woven into our Curriculum Research Framework. For example, research-based developmental progressions underlie the learning trajectories that form the backbone of this Framework. Initial randomized controlled trials showed this approach to have strong positive effects. However, we also recognize the "deep, systemic incapacity of U.S. schools, and the practitioners who work in them, to develop, incorporate, and extend new ideas about teaching and learning in anything but a small fraction of schools and classrooms" (Elmore, 1996 , p. 1). Therefore, we abstracted guidelines from research on scaling up successful interventions (see http://UBTRIAD.org). We used these guidelines to create and test our TRIAD intervention. TRIAD stands for Technology-enhanced, Research-based, Instruction,Assessment, and professional Development. Technology benefits students, teachers, and researchers. Research is the basis for all aspects of TRIAD: The instruction, the assessments, and the professional development. The goal of the TRIAD intervention is to avoid the dilution and pollution that usually plagues efforts to achieve broad success. We describe the TRIAD model andtwo randomized controlled trials evaluations.

Fall Semester

September 10

Mark B. Kristal

Behavioral Neuroscience Area Head
UB Department of Psychology

Tutorial on Principles of Learning 
(Learning Research Group, First Meeting)

Background readings online at UB LearnsSee instructions at the top of this page.



September 17

Robert A. Jacobs

Brain & Cognitive Sciences, Computer Science, & the Center for Visual Science 
University of Rochester

Optimal Learning in Perception and Action


When studying human behavior, it is often useful to compare this behavior with the optimal behavior of an agent that has access to all relevant information, has infinite computational resources, and reasons in a rational manner. If people behave in an optimal manner, we can conclude that people are behaving as they do because they are efficiently using all information to maximize performance on a task. If people behave sub-optimally, we can attempt to identify the constraints or limitations responsible for sub-optimal performance. In this talk, we'll describe three projects using this optimality framework to examine human performance on motor and visual tasks. The first project studies human adaptive motor control under different noise conditions. The second project studies plans for motor movements expressed as optimal linear combinations of optimal motor primitives. The third project studies human information integration in a visual classification task.

Background readings online at UB LearnsSee instructions at the top of this page.



September 24

Bruce L. Lambert

Department of Pharmacy Administration 
University of Illinois at Chicago

Auditory Perception of Drug Names:
Effects of Noise, Similarity, Frequency and Familiarity


Medication errors are a well known threat to patient safety. Among medication errors, confusions between drug names that look and sound alike continues to be a source of concern. One factor that might make errors more likely is when prescribing is done via spoken communication in a noisy environment. Using the neighborhood activation model of word perception as a theoretical framework, I will discuss the results of a study investigating the effect of noise, familiarity, prescribing frequency, frequency-weighted neighborhood probability (FWNP), and phonotactic features on auditory perception of drug names when physicians, pharmacists, nurses, and lay people are asked to recognize drug names. In particular, this study examined whether noise would reduce accuracy, while familiarity, prescribing frequency, FWNP, and sublexical frequency would enhance recognizing drug names. We found that accuracy was influenced by the similarity neighborhood of each drug name and, importantly, that it decreased as noise increased, and that familiar drug names were perceived more accurately than less familiar drug names, although there were some differences across participant groups. Recommendations for reducing errors will be discussed.


Background readings online at UB LearnsSee instructions at the top of this page.



October 1

Paul M. Pietroski

Departments of Linguistics and Philosophy 
University of Maryland

What Are They, and What Are They Good For?


In this talk, I'll offer a version of the old idea that meanings are instructions to build concepts. The proposal draws on work by Frege and Chomsky, along with many other philosophers and linguists. Frege showed us how expressions of an invented language (used by scientists) might be viewed as "recipes" for constructing concepts, including formally new "atomic" concepts that can be introduced by means of fruitful definitions. Chomsky showed us how expressions of a natural language (acquirable by children) might be viewed as outputs of an instantiated procedure for generating instructions to cognitive systems that "interface with" the human language faculty. We can use Chomsky's notion of an I-language to describe a corresponding notion of an I-concept: a concept that can be constructed by executing the semantic instruction provided by an expression of an I-language. Then we can say that the meaning of an I-language expression is an instruction to create an I-concept. As we'll see, this general idea is compatible with various views about lexicalization and the significance of combining words to form phrases. But given some empirically motivated assumptions about the significance of combining words, there are some interesting consequences for lexicalization. Many contemporary researchers adopt, at least as an idealization, an old picture of lexicalizing as a cognitively conservative process of labeling a concept with some grammatical information. But if meanings are instructions to construct I-concepts, we probably need a neo-Fregean model according to which lexicalization can be a cognitively creative process of abstraction, in which already existing concepts (that humans may well share with other animals) are paired with analytically related I-concepts that may be formally new. From this perspective, meanings and I-languages may have more to do with reorganizing conceptual space—and less to do with communication—than many current theories suggest.

Background readings online at UB LearnsSee instructions at the top of this page.



October 8

No meeting



October 15

Learning Initiative Research Group:
First Meeting The first research group meeting of faculty interested in learning will take place on October 15. We will be discussing Penn & Povinelli 2007 (see below). The discussion will be led by Eddie Mercado and Micheal Dent.

The meeting will take place at Gail Mauner and David Braun's house at 7 pm. A main dish will be provided, but we would like attendees to provide an appetizer, salad, appetizer, or beverage.

R.S.V.P. mauner@buffalo.edu to indicate what you are bringing and to get address and directions.

All faculty, whether Center members or not, are invited. Interested students and other individuals should contact Gail Mauner, mauner@buffalo.edu, to learn about follow-up activities.

Penn, D. & Povinelli, D. (2007), "Causal Cognition in Human and Nonhuman Animals: A Comparative, Critical Review"Annual Review of Psychology 58: 97-118.

Accessible from UB Libraries Electronic Journal Holdings or directly by clicking on the title, above, or on UBLearns


In this article, we review some of the most provocative experimental results to have emerged from comparative labs in the past few years, starting with research focusing on contingency learning and finishing with experiments exploring nonhuman animals' understanding of causal-logical relations. Although the theoretical explanation for these results is often inchoate, a clear pattern nevertheless emerges. The comparative evidence does not fit comfortably into either the traditional associationist or inferential alternatives that have dominated comparative debate for many decades now. Indeed, the similarities and differences between human and nonhuman causal cognition seem to be much more multifarious than these dichotomous alternatives allow.



October 22

Lexicon Initiative Research Group:
First Meeting

For the first meeting of the Lexicon Research Group, we will be discussing two papers and some possible directions for multi-investigator funding. The discussion will be led by Paul Luce and Gail Mauner.

This meeting is for faculty only. All faculty, whether Center members or not, are invited. Interested students and other individuals should contact Gail Mauner, mauner@buffalo.edu, to learn about follow-up activities.

One of the papers we will discuss focuses primarily on lexical form, while the other concentrates on lexical content. These papers are:


These papers can be downloaded using the links above or from the Center for Cognitive Science UB Learns website if you are a Center member. See instructions at the top of this page.



October 29

Ralph H. Benedict

Departments of Neurology, of Psychology, of Psychiatry,
and of Counseling, School, and Educational Psychology 
University at Buffalo

Cerebral Lesions and Atrophy
Influence Cognition and Personality
in Multiple Sclerosis


Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory, immunological disorder of the CNS affecting roughly 500,000 persons in the US. The pathological hallmark of MS is demyelination in the cerebral or spinal white matter, which can be easily measured with MRI. The pathology arises in acute attacks or inflammation or "relapses", and the clinical diagnostic criteria emphasize demyelinating lesions that are disseminated in time and space. However, in recent years, the degenerative aspects of the disease have been more appreciated. Brain atrophy is also common in MS and is probably more important with regard to clinical parameters. Thus, MS is both an inflammatory and a degenerative disease. Roughly 50-60% of MS patients are cognitively impaired, and more are affected psychiatrically. The cerebral pathology of MS is heterogeneous, and clinical presentation varies considerably from patient to patient. Much has been learned about the neuropsychology of MS in the past two decades, with the advent of standardized tests for this population and of improved brain imaging. This presentation covers our clinical neuropsychological research in MS and in particular research revealing correlation between cognitive compromise and pathology in specific regions of the brain and specific tissue compartments. Our work demonstrates that (a)  processing speed and episodic memory are most commonly affected in MS, (b)  atrophy of deep gray matter (e.g., thalamus and caudate) is prominent in MS and strongly related to cognitive decline, (c) cerebral reorganization/compensation processes as measured by PET and fMRI probably account for the imperfect correlation between structural MRI and cognition, and (d) the cerebral pathology of MS also contributes to neuropsychiatric disorders and subtle personality changes. I will conclude with a brief summary of our planned work in the hope of fostering communication within the UB community network and encouraging collaboration across disciplines.

Background readings online at UB LearnsSee instructions at the top of this page.



November 5

Graeme Hirst

Department of Computer Science
University of Toronto

Semantic-Distance Measures
with Distributional Profiles
of Coarse-Grained Concepts


Although semantic-distance measures are applied to words in textual tasks such as building lexical chains, semantic distance is really a property of concepts, not words. We present a hybrid measure of semantic distance based on distributional profiles of concepts that we infer from text corpora. We use only a very coarse-grained inventory of concepts—each category of a published thesaurus is taken as a single concept—and yet obtain results on basic semantic-distance tasks that are generally as good as methods that use fine-grained, word-based measures. Because the measure is based on naturally occurring text, it is able to find word pairs that stand in non-classical relationships not found in WordNet. It can be applied cross-lingually, using a thesaurus in one language to measure semantic distance between words in another. In addition, it can used to determine the degree of antonymy between words. (Work done in association with Saif Mohammad, Institute for Advanced Computer Studies, University of Maryland.)

Background readings online at UB LearnsSee instructions at the top of this page.

Co-sponsored by the Department of Computer Science & Engineering



November 12

John C. Trueswell

Department of Psychology
Director of IGERT Language and Communication Program
Director of Institute for Research in Cognitive Science 
University of Pennsylvania

Attention Allocation during Event Perception:
Does Language Matter?


What role does language play in attention allocation during event perception? What role does it play in remembering events? I will present the results from a series of eye-tracking studies in which participants (N = 40) viewed simple animated motion events that contained both a manner of motion (e.g., skating) and an endpoint path (approaching a snowman). Half of the participants were native speakers of Greek, a language that tends to describe motion as goal-directed paths (approaching), and half were native speakers of English, which prefers manner/instruments (skating). Participants were assigned to a range of tasks, including: describing each event, passively studying each event, studying while engaged in a linguistic interference task, and studying while engaged in a nonlinguistic interference task. The results reveal strong differences in attention allocation among language groups when language was available as an encoding strategy. I will discuss the implications for event representation and encoding. (This work is done in collaboration with Assistant Professor Anna Papafragou from the University of Delaware.)

Suggested reading:

Papafragou, A.; Hulbert, J.; & Trueswell, J.C. (2008), "Does Language Guide Event Perception? Evidence from Eye Movements"Cognition 108(1): 155-184.

Background readings online at UB LearnsSee instructions at the top of this page.



November 19

Patrizia Tabossi

Department of Psychology
University of Trieste (Italy)

Recognition and Processing of Idiomatic Expressions


Idioms are fixed expressions whose meaning is not a function of their constituents and whose syntax is defective. Given people's propensity to "speak idiomatically unless there is a good reason not to do so" (Searle 1975), explaining how these expressions are mentally represented, recognised in their standard form, and syntactically processed is a central issue for any theory of language use. In the talk, alternative models of how idioms are recognized and of how speakers deal with their syntax will be discussed, and a model of their recognition and processing will be proposed.

Background readings online at UB LearnsSee instructions at the top of this page.



November 16 -- Thanksgiving break -- no meeting



December 3

Mark E. Bouton

Department of Psychology
University of Vermont

Context, Extinction, and Relapse


Extinction is a basic behavioral phenomenon that allows us to adapt to a changing environment. It is also a procedure that is used in clinical settings to help eliminate maladaptive thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. However, basic laboratory research indicates that extinction does not erase the original learning, but instead creates new learning that is highly dependent on the context for retrieval. This talk will discuss some implications for understanding lapse and relapse (e.g., of anxiety disorders and substance abuse), and will present recent laboratory research designed to evaluate various behavioral and drug treatments that might encourage more permanent behavior change.

Background readings:


  1. Bouton, Mark E. (2002), "Context, Ambiguity, and Unlearning: Sources of Relapse after Behavioral Extinction"Biological Psychiatry 52: 976-986.


    • A general introduction to Bouton's research, with a somewhat "clinical" bent.


  2. Bouton, Mark E., & Woods, A.M. (2008), "Extinction: Behavioral Mechanisms and Their Implications", in R. Menzel (ed.), Learning Theory and Behavior, Vol. 1 of J. Byrne (ed.), Learning and Memory: A Comprehensive Reference (Oxford: Elsevier): 151-172.


    • A more recent and more comprehensive review for a reader who might want a little more breadth and depth.

Background readings online at UB LearnsSee instructions at the top of this page.

Co-sponsored by the Tremaine Fund of the Department of Psychology



December 10

Caroline Palmer

Department of Psychology
Canada Research Chair, Cognitive Neuropsychology of Performance
McGill University

 Music Performance:
When It Takes Two to Tango


Auditory behaviors like music and speech are essentially group activities (unless one is entertaining oneself). Most models of cognitive processes are constrained to individual behavior, based on studies that measure auditory behaviors in isolation (sometimes in concert with a computer or a metronome). I will describe studies of individual and group behavior by musicians in terms of their motor activity and their reactions to auditory events. By manipulating the roles that performers take and the sensory feedback they experience, we measure how the goal of coordinating one's behavior with others affects the timing and motion of individuals' performance. Not surprisingly, scaling up to group behavior requires adjustment of typical cognitive paradigms and conceptual frameworks.