Cognition in Context
CO2 | COGNITION IN CONTEXT
CO2 investigate the cognitive mechanisms and neural underpinnings of voice and speech perception, long-term memory, literacy acquisition and reading development.
CO2 includes 16 PhD researchers, 9 PhD students, and 4 international postdoc fellows. A cognitive psychology and neuroscience framework is adopted, with a special focus on memory and learning, voice/speech perception, cultural acquisitions and their cognitive impact, social cognition and decision making. An interdisciplinary approach is used to study neurocognitive adaptation and plasticity in learning and changing contexts with multiple methods: behavioral paradigms (e.g. eyemovement recordings), neuroimaging techniques (fMRI, EEG) and neuropsychological studies (dyslexia, autism, dementia, schizophrenia).
We collaborate with leading research centers (e.g. HarvardU, HeidelbergU, MPINijmegen, UCL,UK) and networks (e.g. ESCON, Cognitive Science of Culture network). Through APPE, we contribute towards excellence in the national cognitive psychology arena. We offer consultancy to renowned agencies (e.g. European Commission, Fulbright, Israel Science Foundation) and editorial service in leading journals. CO2 is actively involved in advanced training: the HeidelbergLisbonExchange Project; the TquanT/Erasmus+; the BrainMind College, including the Cognitive Science MSc/PhD Program, unique in Portugal; and 3 FCTfunded PhD Programs. Our graduates are coadvised by international collaborators, expanding our network.
CO2 research informs public policies (e.g. prevention of overindebtedness; educational practices in literacy instruction), assists clinical programs and screening of cognitive disorders (reading instruction in dyslexia; voice perception in schizophrenia) and increases crosstalk between academia and stakeholders (e.g. risk management). Our achievements are delivered to society in outreach events.
Social Cognition and Learning
Our research interests lie at the intersection between Cognitive Psychology and Social Psychology, trying to understand how our cognitive structures interact with different contexts and learning. We investigate the adaptive nature of memory in responding to the requirements and contexts of recovery. We explore the adaptation of coding and retrieval strategies to test requirements, looking for conditions where conceptual knowledge can be used to respond to episodic memory tasks, and showing how over many cycles of study and testing we have learned to neglect irrelevant aspects of information to study. We seek to investigate the dynamic relationship between the mechanisms that trigger the recall or recognition of information that has not been experienced and those that we use to correct these errors. We also seek to characterize the development of these mechanisms throughout life, as well as the impact of different coding and retrieval contexts. We also investigate the cognitive mechanisms underlying the spontaneous inferences about another person, how people integrate different types of information in their impressions about others, and the situations in which they rely on context to correct their first impressions. In order to achieve a more global characterization of this phenomenon, our research is done with adults and children. Finally, in another line of research we explore the mechanisms that make social stereotypes, contrary to the commonly accepted view, sometimes exhibit a considerable level of flexibility. Our research has shown that factors such as contextual relevance or difficulty in monitoring our beliefs play a key role in the malleability of social stereotypes. We address these issues using behavioral and computational methods, and trying to build day-to-day phenomena in our cognitive architecture.
Memory and Language
Our team investigates the processes of memory and language and the interaction between these cognitive systems.
We investigate the emergence of the reading circuitry and its impact on the evolutionary older systems of oral language and object recognition. In visual recognition, we originally showed that learning to read leads to the emergence of perceptual mechanisms tuned to the properties of the orthographic code (e.g., analytic letter processing), with consequences in visual nonlinguistic processing (e.g., the ability to discriminate mirror images as d-b; holistic processing of faces). We also investigate the visual object recognition system considering potential links with those systems involved in learning to read and write. In oral language, we evaluate whether and how orthographic knowledge brought about by reading acquisition strengthens the phonological representations of words, thereby assisting in speech perception and production.
Our research is also intended to clarify the cognitive mechanisms underlying the neurobiological reading markers (such as the N170 electrophysiological component) and what mechanisms promote the emergence of a highly specialized neural system devoted to letters and visual words. Also in this domain, we investigate the contribution of visual-to-motor integration (through seeing and handwriting of letters) in the emergence of the neural system for letters and its impact on mirror-image discrimination.
In another line of research, we seek to investigate the cognitive and neural underpinnings of episodic and semantic memory. We have examined the role of the prefrontal cortex in the deliberate retrieval of episodic information and how the late maturation (in adolescence) and early atrophy of this region (in older adults) affect the recovery of past events. In the semantic memory domain,we investigate the specific functions of the anterior temporal lobe and inferior parietal lobe in integrating multiple features into single coherent concepts and the role of the prefrontal cortex in exerting control over retrieved semantic representations.
Bridging the language and memory domains, we have investigated the two facets of learning new words: the language facet, related to the integration and involvement of the new words in lexical dynamics, and the memory facet, related to the memory trace that has been created and the semantic content of the words. We are interested in evaluating the role of the hippocampus and how these two facets interact along healthy and pathological ageing.
Decision in Context
How do we make decisions, inferences and judgments in our daily life?
In what circumstances can we trust our intuitions and when should we second guess them and engage in more deliberative, analytical processes (how intuition and deliberation interact).
How do we infer what other people think and feel, and what are the consequences of those inferences for our own judgment and decisions?
What is the role of inaccurate memory representations of the reasoning problems we have to solve? Can bias stem from correct appraisal of faulty problem representations?
How our motives and goals can influence psychological processes underlying, our memory, judgment and reasoning?
How the feedback provided by different decision context influences the way human judgment and decision making unfolds over time?
The decision in context lab approaches the abovementioned issues from a sócio-cognitive perspective where basic and higher order psychological processes (sometimes studied in cognitive sciences in a relative social vacuum) are approached in more complex and rich interpersonal and social contexts.
Our main goal is to study how cognitive and meta-cognitive processes of reasoning, judgment and decision making unfold in different social and interpersonal contexts. Specifically, we aim at:
- Better understanding in what circumstances motives and motivated reasoning improves our bias judgment and decision making;
- Explore the extent with which performance in heuristics-and-biases problems may depend not only on faulty reasoning but also on the application of sound reasoning to inaccurate representations of the reasoning problems.
- Developing a social metacognitive approach of reasoning: how people infer what other people think and feel, and what are the consequences of those inferences.
- Go beyond one-shot demonstrations of accurate or inaccurate judgment and explore how reasoning and decision behavior unfolds over time and different types of social feedback.
Research on dual-process theories of reasoning and decision-making articulating contributes from social psychology, social cognition and cognitive psychology. Specific thematic lines are linked to the aforementioned goals and include:
- Motivated reasoning as a way to reduce reasoning bias and improve judgment accuracy;
- The role of superficial “good enough” memory representations as a source of bias and decision errors
- Metacognition and social metacognition social: using the perceived conflict between intuitive and reason-based outputs to infer about others’ feelings, decisions and reasoning.
- Exploring human judgment as an ongoing and interactive process that people use to cope with their social world
Voice, Affect and Speech
How do we differentiate and recognize familiar and unfamiliar voices? How do we extract meaning from emotional cues conveyed by somebody’s voice? How do we assign meaning to speech stimuli and how do we differentiate between emotionally salient and not salient speech? Our interest is to understand how the brain perceives and recognizes the identity, affective and semantic aspects of the human voice. We use behavioral, neurophysiological and neuroimaging tools to probe these questions, relying on the combination of skills and knowledge from psychologists, biomedical engineers, computational linguists, and medical doctors.
Three research lines, supported by FCT and BIAL funding, exemplify the work carried in this Lab:
- VAS and hallucinations:
There is a substantial body of evidence showing that a failure to distinguish between internally and externally generated sensory signals (e.g., my voice vs. somebody else’s voice)underlies the experience of auditory hallucinations. We use brain imaging techniques (ERP, EEG oscillations, fMRI) to investigate the impact of salience on auditory sensory prediction and its relationship with hallucination predisposition.
- The effects of musical training on VAS perception:
The musician’s brain is considered a model of experience-driven neuroplasticity. Some studies indicate that this expertise might translate into enhanced language and speech perception abilities, such as vocal emotional perception. In this research line, we investigate whether musical training enhances the extraction of regularities from synthesized emotional speech and musical samples, using EEG and fMRI.
- VAS across the development:
Our goal is to examine changes in vocal emotional perception and recognition from childhood to old adulthood. Our main interest is to understand how the detection of salience from voice cues relates to brain changes during development.