CAPS Research Opportunities
The member labs in the CaPS center offer research experiences to interested undergraduate students. Most of the labs will ask for a commitment of more than one term, and students should expect to spend (in general) at least 10 hours/week working in the lab. The Psychology Department offers independent study (PSYC 392 and 397) as well as honors research (PSYC 499) opportunities for undergraduates. Students interested in this type of research experience should contact the lab in which they are interested in working. Opportunities are available at various times throughout the year.
Binghamton University’s Center for Cognitive and Psycholinguistics Sciences brings together researchers from several academic units along with representatives from local industries and other educational institutions in the region to support research and training in various areas of basic and applied cognitive science.
Areas on which CaPS researchers are focused:
- Auditory cognition and psychoacoustics
- Categorization and reasoning
- Elementary information processing
- Human memory studies
- Memory studies in infants and children
- Language comprehension
- Reading and eyetracking
- Spoken language processing
The Psychoacoustics and Auditory Cognition Laboratory has a broad set of research programs focused on a number of different, but interrelated themes about the nature and interaction of bottom-up and top-down processing of complex auditory stimuli. Current research is distributed across four major themes, with graduate students receiving a combination of broad training in auditory perception with a clear focused concentration on specific research issues.
- One major theme in the laboratory focuses on developing a better specification of the cues and perceptual principles responsible for the perception of speech.
- A second theme, with extramural funding, evaluates general perceptual principles, especially those underlying music.
- A third theme, motivated by some of our applied work on military sonar operations, evaluates the abilities of human listeners to perceive aspects of natural acoustic events, the stimulus properties used by listeners for such identification and procedures for improving listening skills.
- The fourth theme evaluates the nature, processing and integration of features in the perception of speech and music stimuli.
All of this research is based upon a solid foundation of rigorous experimental design, with careful analyses reflecting traditional psychophysics, modern signal detection theory and complex multidimensional analyses. The broad range of laboratory activities interact in a synergistic fashion to provide exceptional graduate training, all with practical applications in applied settings.
Kenneth Kurtz, PhD
A key purpose of the cognitive activity in the human mind is making sense of the world around us. To scientifically account for this process of ordering our experience, we must address:
- how knowledge is used as a basis for comprehension and reasoning; and
- how such knowledge is acquired and organized.
Much of the work in my laboratory focuses on two cognitive mechanisms that serve as a bridge between perceptual experience and stored knowledge: categorization is the process of interpreting an example as a member of a known class or concept and comparison is the process of interpreting an example with respect to (or in light of) another. Categorization and comparison processes serve to guide interpretation in terms of prior knowledge, but can also guide learning or conceptual change by updating the knowledge itself. Our work in the lab consists of behavioral studies of the nature and roles of categorization and comparison along with the design of neural network models used to instantiate theoretical claims and simulate human learning and cognitive performance.
Our specific area of specialization is information processing in animals and humans, including learning, memory and decision making. Although our research team in recent years has worked in the framework of Pavlovian conditioning, integration with both the physiological and human cognitive literature is sought at the theoretical level.
Recent work has been concerned with distinguishing perception, acquisition, storage, retention, retrieval and response generation, using impediments to performance such as blocking, overshadowing, associative interference and CS and US-pre-exposure effects to understand the processing of acquired information. We have found that training and test contexts (i.e., background stimuli) play a central role in modulating acquired behavior.
Present research continues to examine these issues, particularly to determine how retrieval processes can explain phenomena that are traditionally attributed to differences in acquisition. Experiments are being conducted to see if the retrieval rule that we have formulated based on a modified form of contingency theory (the Extended Comparator Hypothesis) can explain sufficient behavioral variation to allow simplification of contemporary theories of conditioning. For example, with this retrieval rule, behavior indicative of conditioned inhibition can be explained in terms of a decrease in US likelihood as opposed to associations to the absence of a US, i.e., negative associations.
A second avenue of research is concerned with the role of temporal relationships between events in elementary learning. Our data indicate that temporal proximity not only fosters the formation of associations, but is invariably part of what gets encoded within the association. Moreover, this temporal information is a critical determinant of how the association will later be expressed in behavior. Our work in this area is summarized in what we call the Temporal Coding Hypothesis.
Other studies are examining the various properties of occasion setters (i.e., conditional discriminative stimuli). For instance, we are attempting to determine if occasion setters obey rules analogous to those known to govern Pavlovian excitatory conditioned stimuli. Additional research focuses on similarities and differences in Pavlovian conditioning, contingency judgment and causal attribution by animals and humans.
My research is in the area of human memory. Most of my research has been concerned with the processes underlying recognition memory. I am currently conducting experiments that investigate the contribution of perceptual fluency to different types of recognition tasks.
It has been theorized that recognition memory decisions are determined, in part, by the perceptual fluency of the recognition probe. The relationship between perceptual fluency and recognition memory appears to be mediated by an attributional process whereby an enhanced level of fluency is interpreted as a sign that a stimulus has occurred in the past. That is, fluency is used as a heuristic in recognition memory decisions.
The work that is currently being conducted in my lab investigates the degree to which fluency contributes to different types of recognition decision (e.g. Westerman, 2001), and the degree to which perceptual changes and the strength of the memory trace moderate the role that fluency plays in recognition decisions (e.g., Lloyd, Westerman & Miller, in press; Westerman, Lloyd, & Miller, in press; Westerman, Miller, & Lloyd, submitted). Our research on this topic suggests the attributional process that mediates the link between perceptual fluency is very sophisticated and is subject to meta-cognitive control.
Research in the Baby Lab is directed toward examination of the perceptual and memory abilities of infants and young children. Investigation of the perceptual and attention processes that influence the formation of visual memories and exploration of the structure and content of visual representations comprise the primary foci of our research effort. Processes from all three areas are likely highly interrelated, and thus we are currently investigating questions regarding the influence of basic perceptual processes on the representation of visual stimuli, and questions regarding the influence of attention on memory in both infants and children.
We use theories and research from labs using adults as participants to inform our research, as this leads to novel questions and directions in many instances. The director previously studied the effects of viewpoint changes on the representation underlying adult object recognition. We are currently investigating the ontogenetic beginnings of this ability, as well as investigating questions regarding the relationship between what is known about the physiology of the early visual system (which we do not study) and the psychophysical functioning of infant vision (which we do study). Overall, our research is directed toward understanding, in a developmental framework, the interaction of perception and memory in higher-level vision.
The primary goal of my research is to work toward a theory that specifies how readers comprehend text. A complete theory of discourse comprehension will have to specify the nature of the memory representation that readers create, as well as the cognitive processes involved in building that representation. As a starting point, we know that readers' representation of a narrative does not simply include the information explicitly stated in the narrative. Readers incorporate information from general knowledge, make connections between ideas that are physically distant in the text, keep some aspects of the text more active in memory than others and so on. The goal of my research is to work toward a theory that specifies the processes involved in building a discourse representation, accounting for all of the relevant text and reader characteristics.
Despite the complexities involved in studying a higher-level process such as discourse processing, my work has been guided by a "bottom-up" framework based on the premise that many of the processes underlying discourse comprehension are automatic. According to this view, sometimes referred to as a memory-based text processing view, each text input (i.e., word or clause) automatically causes related information in memory to become activated. A subset of those reactivated concepts is then integrated in a subsequent stage. Although there are clearly processes involved in reading that are strategic, it is the automatic components of discourse processing that are most amenable to scientific study, and thus provide a good starting point. Further, this approach simplifies the study of a complex phenomenon and provides a useful bridge between the field of discourse comprehension and the broader field of memory research; a central tenet of the memory-based text processing framework is that text inputs act like any other input to memory. Thus, in addition to working toward the specific goal of understanding discourse comprehension, my research contributes more generally to the study of memory.
My Philosophy of Research Training
I expect the students in my lab to be open minded, to work independently and to have some passion for research. I like to see curiosity, initiative and an ability to set realistic goals and to persist. As a mentor of graduate students, I prefer a nondirective approach. I consider myself a facilitator whose mission it is to help unfold a student's talents. After receiving their PhD, most of my students have assumed faculty positions (e.g., University of Georgia at Augusta) and three have joined human factors groups in industry (IBM and Unisys).
The laboratory is primarily used by my graduate students, their undergraduate assistants and myself, although students from other laboratories have used it as well. Typically, I am mentoring one or more graduate students, each of whom supervises one or two undergraduate assistants.
The reading/eye tracking laboratory is attractive laboratory space on the ground floor of the Department of Psychology building. It consists of a suit of six connected rooms – two relatively large center rooms, each of which is connected to two smaller running rooms. One of the large center rooms is primarily used as office space for graduate students and the other is primarily used for the reception of research participants and for laboratory meetings. Three of the smaller rooms house eye trackers and the fourth small room houses a more conventional setup for the measuring of manual and articulatory responses used in word-recognition or target-detection studies
Eye Tracker Setups
The early eye tracking work in the laboratory was conducted using a dual Purkinje system by Fourward Technologies – a sophisticated optical system with very high temporal and spatial accuracy. Most of our more recent work was conducted using a more user- and subject-friendly EyeLink 1 system. In fall 2003, a second-generation EyeLink 2 system was added to the lab. There is a fairly generous laboratory use policy and students of several other faculty members have used the equipment for thesis research (Celia Klin, Cynthia Connine, Mark Lenzenweger and Joseph Morrissey).
The Beauty of the Eye Movement Measure
Eye movements are sensitive to momentary demands of visual and linguistic tasks and measurement of eye movements can provide an excellent real-time record of perceptual and cognitive processes under natural task conditions. In contrast to more conventional tasks, where a participant performs a single prescribed response in response to a relatively simple stimulus, the measurement of eye movements allows for the free expression of a reader's/perceiver's response to a relatively complex visual display.
The research in my laboratory investigates the representation and processing of spoken words. During the past few years, one area of research has focused on the consequences of deviations in the speech signal of various types. These experiments show that an input that is similar in acoustic-phonetic structure to a given word (similarity mapping) will activate a lexical representation. If a portion of the acoustic-phonetic input is sufficiently dissimilar in acoustic-phonetic structure to a given word, that word is not activated in memory. These and other results from our lab are difficult to accommodate in models such as the cohort model. In cross-language experiments, we have extended this work to both German and Mandarin Chinese. The results indicate the generality of similarity mapping across different languages and extend it to a tone language (Chinese) where the relevant information is spread across a syllable.
In more recent work, we have focused on processing of common phonological variants such as flaps (e.g. the word PRETTY can be pronounced with an articulated medial 't' or with a medial segment that approximates a 'd' sound). We hypothesize that recognition of phonological variants is accomplished via two related mechanisms. The first, a similarity based metric, is used for less frequently encountered variants followed by utilization of inference-based processes. We further propose that frequently occurring variants of a word are lexically represented along with a hyper-articulated, complete form. The combined mechanisms take into account a listener's knowledge of his or her language via abstract principles while at the same time capitalizes on the presence of frequently occurring patterns via explicit representation of form.