Cognitive and Brain Sciences Research
Research training is strongly emphasized in the Cognitive and Brain Sciences Program. Students initiate, execute and interpret independent projects under the guidance of their faculty advisors, with additional input from their Master's and Doctoral advisory committees. The entire Cognitive and Brain Sciences Area – faculty, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers – meet weekly for presentations and discussions of ongoing work in Area labs.
Laboratories in the Cognitive and Brain Sciences Area use a variety of methods to understand the organization of cognitive processes, including the speed and accuracy of task performance, quantitative analysis of questionnaire data, computational modeling, gaze direction and the timing of eye movements, cortical electrophysiology (event-related potentials, phase coherence and synchronization in the EEG), and other psychophysiological measures (heart rate, pupil diameter, skin conductance).
Cognitive and Brain Sciences faculty receive research support from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the United States Department of Education. Additional support for graduate students (especially travel to conferences) comes from two University research units, The Center for Cognitive and Psycholinguistic Sciences and The Center for Development and Behavioral Neuroscience.
Faculty and graduate students in the Cognitive and Brain Sciences Area investigate all facets of this core human ability, from the perceptual decoding of printed and spoken words, to the semantic processing of single words and sentences, to how readers track events and characters in extended narratives. Laboratories use state-of-the-art methods including event-related brain potentials (Van Petten, Laszlo), eye-tracking (Inhoff), sophisticated analysis and editing of speech signals (Connine), online adjustments of reading speed (Klin), and neural network models of word recognition (Laszlo). Current topics of investigation include:
• Whether readers can process more than one word at a time
• How listeners recognize spoken words despite variability in the way that different speakers pronounce the same item
• How listeners segment a continuous stream of auditory input into individual words
• How semantic context influences word recognition
• Individual differences in reading development across gifted, normally developing, and dyslexic readers
• The necessity of auditory and spatial imagery for language comprehension
• The role of phonology in reading
• The degree to which readers "embody" the experiences of fictional characters in stories
Learning and Memory
Faculty and graduate students in the Cognitive and Brain Sciences Area investigate learning and memory at multiple levels of analysis. Miller's research is devoted to basic principles of learning in animals and humans, namely how temporal and causal relations between sensory stimuli, responses and outcomes are encoded and retrieved. Kurtz combines empirical data and computational models to understand how categories are learned and the role of comparison in structuring human knowledge. Westerman investigates fluency, familiarity and recollection in episodic memory and emphasizes the importance of decision making, attribution and inference in memory. Van Petten examines interactions between executive function and basic memory abilities using event-related brain potentials. Miskovic examines how attention is drawn to stimuli previously associated with threat or safety, and how classical conditioning alters human cortical activity.
Perception, Attention, and Emotion
People (and other animals) determine what aspects of the outside world will occupy cognitive resources and drive their behavior via what they attend to. Eye-tracking and electrophysiology are used to evaluate the direction of attention in multiple Binghamton laboratories. Gerhardstein examines attention to visual objects and scenes, and Inhoff examines how attentional focus during reading is governed by lexical and higher-level properties of the text. Two faculty members investigate the relationship between attention and emotion with cortical and autonomic psychophysiological measures. Strauss examines how people regulate their emotional state via selective attention, reappraisal, and self-distraction. Miskovic evaluates how sensory processing is altered by affectively-salient stimuli and motivational state.
Gerhardstein's research group examines visual object and scene processing from early childhood to adulthood, and why children have difficulty transferring information from television, video and computer screens to real three-dimensional objects. Laszlo's laboratory examines the development of reading skills and how these differ between children at different ability levels. Kurtz and Laszlo collaborate to identify methods of reading remediation that can be tailored to unique needs of individual students. N. Spear investigates how early exposure to alcohol and differences in maternal care affect later behavior and learning abilities in rats.
Collaborative Research with Other Areas in the Psychology Department
The central goal for faculty and graduate students in the Cognitive and Brain Sciences Area is to understand the structure of normal cognition. Strong collaborative ties between faculty in the Cognitive and Clinical areas apply findings about healthy cognition to topics such as attention in social anxiety disorders, attention in children at risk for depression, how learning theory can inform treatment for anxiety and phobia disorders, and how strategies for emotion regulation differ between healthy and schizophrenic individuals. Common interests for faculty in the Behavioral Neuroscience and Cognitive and Brain Sciences programs are how neural predictors of substance abuse interact with parental relationships and risk-taking behavior, especially in adolescence.