Psychology Research Seminar Series

The School of Psychology hosts an exciting international range of visiting speakers from universities across the world, giving students and staff the opportunity to find out about the latest advances. Details of each talk can be viewed in the abstracts below.

Seminars take place on most Wednesday afternoons between September and March, from 16:00 until 17:00, with tea, coffee, and biscuits available from 15:30 in the 3rd floor seminar room, Link Building. A question and answer session will follow immediately after the talk.

These seminars are not open to the general public, but are for staff and students of Plymouth University and associated institutions. 

Forthcoming Seminars:

26 April 2017 Chris Harris University of Plymouth  Decisions, decisions, decisions

3 May 2017 Henry Otgaar Maastricht University Remembering and believing in the legal context

  • Memory plays a vital role in the courtroom. In the majority of criminal trials, forensic technical evidence such as DNA-samples is lacking. Legal professionals such as judges have to base their decisions then on eyewitness testimonies and statements provided by suspects. Since such statements contain recollections of eyewitnesses or suspects, it is of the utmost relevance that memory experts can help legal professionals in educating them about the role of memory in court. Legal cases and experimental studies have shown that people can falsely remember entire traumatic episodes such as sexual abuse which has led to wrongful convictions. In this talk, I will present the latest work on the role of memory in court. I will do this by presenting new work from my lab and will clarify this work with legal cases in which I was involved as an expert witness. Also, I will make the suggestion that in many cases, people do not remember but merely believe that an event occurred and that such beliefs are likely to play a more important part in court than memory.

10 May 2017 Keith Jensen University of Manchester  The Heart of Human Sociality

  • Human prosocial behaviour might be unique in the animal kingdom. The fact that we cooperate on a large scale with nonkin might be underlain by psychological mechanisms not seen in their full form in other species. Other-regarding concerns, concern for the welfare of others, might be a core component of human sociality. While empathy might also us to know something about the feelings of others, we need to care about others so that we act. However, the ability to feel into others and to be concerned about others does not guarantee prosociality. We may also be uniquely antisocial, taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others and distress at their happiness. These concerns can motivate a range of behaviours from helping to punishment, from fairness to spite, from morality to cruelty. In this talk, I will present experimental evidence from human children and chimpanzees to suggest that other-regarding concerns emerge early in children and might not exist in our closest living relatives.


The following speakers have been confirmed for later in 2017:

Aidan Horner University of York   Long-term memory

Previous seminars in this series

29 March Phil McAleer University of Glasgow  First impressions of speaker personality from voices

  • Previous work from our group showed that the key personality traits listeners establish upon hearing novel voices can be reduced to a two-dimensional space aligned to ratings of Trustworthiness and Dominance. The 'Social Voice Space' shows remarkable consistency to the main personality traits found in other domains, including face perception, and is proposed to drive our decisions of whether to enact approach or avoidance behaviour. In this talk I will provide a brief summation of the 'Social Voice Space' before presenting results from ongoing work that looks to establish the stability of such personality judgements across changing listener and speaker scenarios. I will conclude by outlining work exploring a proposed positivity bias in older listeners towards younger voices.

22 March Claire Braboszcz  Plymouth University  Neuroscience of mental imagery

15 March Lisa Leaver Exeter University  Cognition in grey squirrels: what we know and why it matters

 1 March Paul Artes Plymouth University  Super-Vision - designing new vision tests with hyperacuity stimuli: rewards and challenges.

  • Hyperacuities are a class of visual tasks with exquisitely low thresholds, with performance ~10 times better than suggested by the spacing of retinal receptors. For example, human observers can detect misalignment between two lines (Vernier acuity), or distortions of a circular object (radial deformation acuity), of the order of a few seconds of arc. This seminar will illuminate some new clinical applications of hyperacuity stimuli for vision measurements in clinical practice, and discuss what innovations will be needed to translate cutting-edge visual psychophysics into practical clinical tools.

22 February Daryl O'Connor University of Leeds  Karoshi: Effects of Stress on Health and Wellbeing

  • This talk will argue that stress may indirectly contribute to health risk and reduced longevity to the extent that it produces deleterious changes in diet and/or helps maintain maladaptive health behaviours (e.g., smoking, alcohol consumption) as well as directly by influencing biological processes across the life span (e.g., blood pressure, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis functioning). Studies investigating the relationship between chronic stress, perseverative cognition, the cortisol response and health outcomes will be presented. The second half of the talk will describe recent work investigating the role of HPA axis responses to stress in suicide attempters and ideators. The importance of studying the effects of stress across the life course and developing stress management interventions will also be highlighted.

8 February Debbie Mills  Bangor University  Interactions between language experience, emotion, and executive function: ERP studies of bilingual adults

1 February Sylvia Pan Goldsmiths, University of London  What is Virtual Reality and How Does it Work for Social Psychologists?

25 January Andy Wills Plymouth University  Progress in modelling through distributed collaboration: Concepts, tools, and examples

  • Formal modelling in psychology is failing to live up to its potential due to a lack of effective collaboration. As a first step towards solving this problem, the Catlearn Research Group have produced a set of freely-available tools for distributed collaboration. In this talk, I'll describe those tools, and the conceptual framework behind them. I'll also provide concrete examples of how these tools can be used. The approach I propose enhances, rather than supplants, more traditional forms of publication. All the resources for this project are freely available from the catlearn website.

18 January 2017 Lorraine Whitmarsh Cardiff University  Behaviour change or lifestyle change? Evidence and prospects for behavioural 'spillover'

  • There is increasing acknowledgement that profound changes to individual behaviour are required in order to tackle climate change, and yet policies to achieve these changes have so far met with limited success. Most people are willing to make only very small changes to their lifestyle - so new ways of encouraging green behaviour which can match the scale of the climate change challenge are needed. The UK government and several psychologists have suggested behavioural 'spillover' might be a way to achieve this. Spillover is the notion that taking up one green behaviour (e.g., recycling) can lead on to other green behaviours (e.g., taking your own bags shopping). Ultimately, this might hold the key to moving beyond piecemeal behaviour change to achieving more ambitious, holistic lifestyle change. This seminar will present initial work to explore when spillover does, does not, and could, occur using: UK correlational data, a field experiment of the Welsh carrier bag change, and lab experiments to induce behavioural spillover. Planned work to explore spillover across diverse cultures will also be outlined.

14 December 2017 Iris Englehard University of Utrecht How does EMDR work? A dual-task approach to degrading traumatic memories

7 December 2017 Anne Dowker University of Oxford Maths Anxiety in Girls

30 November 2016  Laurence White  Plymouth University The Origins of Speech Anti-Rhythm

23 November 2016 Felicity Bishop Southampton University Harnessing Placebo Effects in Routine Primary Care: GPs' and Patients' Perspectives

  • Placebos are an essential tool in randomised clinical trials, where they are used to control for bias and contextual healing effects. More controversially, researchers are developing ways of harnessing placebo effects for patient benefit in routine medical practice. In this seminar, I will describe a programme of work investigating professional and lay attitudes to clinical applications of placebo effects. Our web-based survey of 783 UK GPs showed that 97% of GPs have used placebos in clinical practice, and that so-called 'pure' placebos (e.g. sugar pills) are used rarely but 'impure' placebos (e.g. homeopathy) are used frequently. Qualitative analysis of GPs' comments revealed that they perceived a broad array of perceived harms and benefits of placebo-prescribing, reflecting fundamental bioethical principles at the level of the individual, the doctor-patient relationship, the NHS, and society. While some GPs were adamant that there was no place for placebos in clinical practice, others saw placebo effects as ubiquitous and potentially beneficial in primary care. Our focus group and survey research with patients demonstrates similarly strongly-held and diverse views about harnessing placebo effects in routine primary care. If placebo effects are to be better harnessed to benefit patients, then patients and GPs would benefit from educational interventions to dispel myths, challenge misconceptions, and increase knowledge. I will finish by describing our current work to develop such interventions.

16 November 2016  Jonathan Rolison University of Essex Risk-taking differences across adulthood: A question of age, domain, and self-perceptions.

9 November 2016 Sobanawartiny Wijeakumar  University of East Anglia 'Shining light' on visual working memory

  • Visual working memory (VWM) plays a key role in visual cognition, comparing percepts and identifying changes in the world as they occur. Previously, functional magnetic imaging (fMRI) has identified activation in frontal, parietal and temporal areas involved in VWM processing. There are, however, various issues with trying to use fMRI to investigate such brain functions in infancy and childhood and even in late adulthood. Instead, one can rely on functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to investigate hemodynamic changes in the cerebral cortex in both typical and atypical populations. Here, we will show a novel image reconstruction approach to move from conventional channel-based to voxel-based fNIRS activation, similar to what is obtained from fMRI analyses. I will validate this approach by comparing voxel-wise fNIRS results to fNIRS results from a VWM task in young adults. I will also present some evidence of using this approach to investigate VWM changes in the brain across the human life span.

26 October 2016 Bob French University of Borgouyne

  • Games involving cognitive skills of any kind have at least one thing in common: an adult can without the slightest effort beat a five-year-old child at them. With one exception: Concentration. The game works like this. A deck of cards consisting of pairs of various images, for example, pairs of images of various Pokemon characters: two Pikachu cards, two Charizard cards, two Gyarados cards, etc., is randomly dealt out, face down, on the table. Each of the two players takes turns turning over two cards. If they match, they keep that pair of cards and play again. If the two cards turned over do not match, they are turned face down again in their original locations and the other player plays. The game continues until there are no more cards on the table. The winner is the person with the most cards. Clearly this game requires two different memory skills: image-recollection and location-recollection. Along with other researchers, we have shown that adults are very significantly better at both of these memory skills than young children. And yet, children perform as well, and often better, than adults at this game, one that requires both image- and location-recognition! How on earth is this possible? I present a simple connectionist model that provides an insight for a possible solution to this paradox. The model suggests that no separate mechanisms are required for children to achieve their astonishingly good performance on this task. It also suggests a way for you to not be humiliated by being thrashed by your five-year-old child at this game...

19 October 2016  William Simpson Plymouth University What causes the other-race effect? Evidence from classification images

2 October 2016 Graham Turpin - University of Sheffield Books on prescription, self-help and trauma: a cautionary tale

  • Bibliotherapy and self-help are recognized features of many UK mental health services. Since the pioneering work of Neil Frude, Books on Prescription (BOP) Schemes have arisen in many NHS services through partnerships with public libraries. At the same time, the importance of 'Stepped Care Models' of service delivery has been stressed, whereby Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners offer low intensity psychological interventions such as bibliotherapy and self-help. A recent national development by a leading charity involving public libraries, the Reading Agency, has drawn these two initiatives together. The progress made in rolling out nationally the Reading Well Books on Prescription scheme covering common mental health conditions, dementia, young people's mental health and long-term physical conditions will be briefly reviewed. It cannot be assumed, however, that every self-help intervention is effective in moderating symptoms and psychological problems. Research on providing self-help information to people who have recently attended hospital Accident and Emergency departments will be presented. Although attendees generally value being given relevant information, no evidence of the efficacy of information provision on moderating symptoms of PTSD was obtained in three independent RCTs. The implications of these studies for self-help provision are discussed.

5 October 2016 Bahar Koymen - Manchester University Putting heads together: Children's reasoning with others

  • Reasoning is classically viewed as an individual skill enabling a person to reach conclusions based on evidence. More recent accounts, however, have highlighted that reasoning - in the more restricted sense of explicating reasons for actions or conclusions - is a fundamentally social skill enabling two or more people to produce and evaluate one another's arguments in order to reach joint decisions (Mercier & Sperber, 2011; Tomasello, 2014). Therefore, in making joint decisions with a partner, children must evaluate the evidence behind their respective claims and so the rationality of their respective proposals. In this talk I will present series of studies in which 3-, 5-, and 7-year-old children produced and evaluated reasons with their peer partners to reach joint decisions. The findings overall suggest that children as young as 3-year-olds are able to reason with others. Children get better at reasoning in late preschool ages and eventually become very 'strategic' reasoners at school ages. Overall, these results support the view of children's joint reasoning as a fundamentally cooperative enterprise aimed at making jointly rational decisions.

11 May 2016 Harry Farmer - UCL Embodiment

  • The last 20 years have seen an explosion of interest in the self within cognitive science. However, research on this topic has often been disjointed with researchers from cognitive neuroscience emphasising the importance of a bodily form of self which is formed by the integration of sensory inputs and motor outputs while researchers from the social sciences have tended to view the self as an abstract conceptual structure. In this talk I will present a series of studies which investigated whether bodily and conceptual forms of self-representation interact with one another and how this affected our perceptions of other people. I will first present a series of studies which investigated the effect of skin colour on body ownership and found that experiencing body ownership over a hand with the skin colour of a racial out-group led to more positive implicit attitudes towards members of that racial out-group and modulated their empathic motor resonance to painful stimuli on the hand of that out-group member. I will go on to discuss a second series of studies that examined the relationship between trust and body representation using economic games and fMRI.

4 May 2016  Nicola Byrom - Oxford University: Attending to the bigger picture; attentional breadth may be influencing how we construct models of life experience

23 March 2016 - Ian Apperly - University of Birmingham How do we take other people's perspectives, and who cares?

  • A growing literature on perspective-taking paints a complex picture. Perspective-taking may be spatial or social; automatic or controlled; and clearly depends on multiple cognitive mechanisms. I will describe some recent results from adults and children that suggest there is order in this chaos. One reason why we should care about this because it provides a powerful framework for investigating individual differences in healthy and pathological perspective-taking.

16 March 2016 - Jelena Havelka  University of Leeds Visuospatial bootstrapping effects in working memory

  • It has recently been demonstrated that immediate memory for digits is superior when items are presented in a meaningful 'keypad' spatial configuration. This phenomenon, termed 'visuospatial bootstrapping', involves the integration of verbal and spatial information in working memory via stored knowledge in long-term memory. We have recently explored the basis of this effect experimentally using dual-task manipulations, with outcomes indicating contributions to verbal-spatial binding from spatial working memory and modality-general storage (possibly within the episodic buffer). We have also examined the extent to which the effect emerges in different population groups, including children of different ages, healthy older adults, and individuals with mild cognitive impairment. An overview of this recent work will be provided, along with a consideration of current and future directions.

9 March 2016 - Reinout Wiers University of Amsterdam  Assessing and Changing Implicit Cognition in Addiction

  • Dual process models have described addiction as a combination of relatively strong bottom-up cue-related neurocognitive processes and relatively weak top-down cognitive control processes. In line with this perspective, we found across several studies a larger impact of memory associations and approach tendencies on behaviour in adolescents with relatively weak cognitive. Dual-process models have recently come under fire, but we think they can still be useful at a descriptive psychological level, while more work should be done to illuminate the underlying neurocognitive mechanisms. Moreover, dual process models inspired new interventions aimed at changing relatively automatic processes in addiction, varieties of Cognitive Bias Modification (CBM) paradigms. I will present work on attentional re-training in alcoholism and on approach-bias re-training which have yielded clinically relevant results. I will also present some recent studies concerning online applications of CBM and on the underlying neurocognitive mechanisms in these training studies.

2 March 2105 - Neil Ferguson Liverpool Hope University Leaving violence behind: Disengaging from terrorism in Northern Ireland

  • This presentation explores the processes involved in leaving social movements or disengaging from terrorist activities by providing an analysis of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Red Hand Commando (RHC) transformation away from politically motivated violence towards a civilian non-military role. Interpretative phenomenological analysis was employed to gain an understanding of participant accounts of leaving violence behind and disengaging from terrorism. Analysis of the interview transcripts revealed the interplay of individual, organisation and societal level processes in incentivising and obstructing disengagement from politically motivated violence. The findings resonate with other case studies exploring the processes involved in disengagement from political violence among other terror groupings across the globe. The results are discussed in relation to a number of topics, including the implementation DDR in post-conflict societies, the dynamic role of collective identity in the engagement in and disengagement from politically motivated violence and the role of prison in shaping disengagement from politically motivated violence.

24 February 2015 - Caroline Rowland University of Liverpool How do children learn grammar? Evidence from production, comprehension and explanatory models

  • Research on language development, particularly the development of grammar, has traditionally focused on debating the extent to which language learning depends on innate knowledge or environmental support. On the one hand, many studies, mainly on speech production (e.g. Pine et al., 1998), have suggested that children start out with pockets of knowledge based round an inventory of item-based frames. This evidence supports an approach that sees grammar development as a gradual process of abstraction across specific instances in the child's input. On the other hand, a different body of work, mainly on language comprehension, suggests that children use abstract grammatical categories from the earliest age tested (e.g. Gertner et al., 2006). This evidence supports an approach that proposes innate syntactic, semantic or conceptual knowledge at the core of grammar acquisition, and which predicts more rapid learning. However, recent work suggests that this is a false dichotomy; children and adults have both abstract knowledge and knowledge centred around lexical items at all stages of development. Thus, the traditional approaches are breaking down. What is replacing them is a focus on explanatory models designed to answer a different question: 'How do the child's learning mechanisms exploit information in the environment to build mature linguistic knowledge?' In this talk I use recent work from our lab to demonstrate what this approach has taught us so far about grammar acquisition, focussing on work that demonstrates what kind of learning mechanism best explains developmental differences in structural priming. I show how this new approach requires that we factor into our models the mechanisms underlying language processing, since the results of all studies on children's language development reflect not only children's knowledge of their language, but also the processing constraints that operate when we produce or comprehend language.

17 February 2015 - Sylvia Terbeck Plymouth University Recent development of two topics: Music and intergroup relations and Immersive Virtual Reality and intergroup relations

  • Social psychology might benefit from a multimodal approach including insides from music psychology as well as computer science. We recently found that music and synchronised activity might enhance empathy and reduce prejudice. Furthermore, besides using traditional questionnaire based methods we developed a 3D immersive Virtual Reality (IVR) paradigm to study moral and social decisions. We found the IVR paradigm to be superior to previous methods as "dark tirade" personality variables could predict the more realistic IVR actions but not the theoretical decisions. Using IVR might thus have great benefit to the study of psychology, and I will show you how simple *programming* could be.

10 February 2016 - Kristina Suchotzki  Wurzburg University, Germany  Lie to Me - An experimental investigation of the cognitive mechanisms underlying deception

20 January 2015 Allegra Cattani Plymouth University  Children's first words and gestures: A cross-linguistic study

  • Word and gesture learning emerge naturally in the child development.  Infants learn to speak and to gesture following the same developmental milestones.  First, a new picture naming task, with standardisation norms of over 370 English-speaking British children, assessing the lexical subcomponents of comprehension and production in toddlers between 19 and 36 months, is presented.  This structured task is then used to examine the lexical ability and the gesture production on a sample of British, Australian, and English toddlers.  The effects of cultural and linguistic differences are explained.

13 January2016 Markus Binderman University of Kent  Resource limits as the cause of errors in face matching

  • In face matching, observers have to decide whether two photographs of unfamiliar faces depict the same person or different people. This task is of great applied importance for person identification at airports and national borders, but it is also prone to error. In this talk, I will look at a key cause of these errors.

9 December 2015 - Helen Haste University of Bath Civic identity, agency, positioning - and the narratives that fuel civic engagement

  • Stories are the shared memories and aspirations through which we make meaning. They give us explanations about cause and effect, and about what is important to attend to in the past. They position us in relation to others and other groups. Stories both shape and reflect our identity, and they fuel our efficacious engagement with social issues. Attitude measurement, the "gold standard" of social research, can at best only capture the superficial level of beliefs and especially of motives. Drawing on data from China and South Africa, I argue that we should be seeking explanations of civic and social action and civic identities in the narratives that are central to people's identities

2 December 2015 -  Christian Fullgrabe  MRC Institute of Hearing Research, Nottingham Beyond audibility - Age-related changes in speech perception despite clinically normal hearing

  • Anecdotal evidence and experimental investigations indicate that older people experience increased speech-perception difficulties, especially in noisy environments. Since peripheral hearing sensitivity declines with age, lower speech intelligibility can often be explained by a reduction in audibility. However, aided speech-perception in hearing-impaired listeners frequently falls short of the performance level that would be expected based on the audibility of the speech signal. Given that many of these listeners are older, poor performance may be caused by age-related changes in supra-threshold auditory and/or cognitive processes that are not captured by the standard clinical assessment - the audiogram. The presentation will discuss experimental evidence obtained from clinically normal-hearing adults showing that auditory temporal processing, cognition (e.g. processing speed, attention, memory), and speech-in-noise processing (from phoneme identification to paragraph comprehension) are indeed linked and, independently of hearing loss, decline across the adult lifespan. These findings highlight the need to take into account these audibility-unrelated factors in the prediction and rehabilitation of speech processing across adulthood.

25 November 2015 - Jon May Plymouth University  'I can resist anything except temptation': a cognitive-motivational intervention to support abstinence

  • One of the biggest psychological barriers to quit attempts are cravings for the substance or activity from which people are trying to abstain. Elaborated Intrusion theory (Kavanagh, Andrade & May, 2005) explains cravings as cognitive-emotional states in which external or internal cues trigger intrusive thoughts (I need a drink) that are then elaborated, generating embodied images of the desired substance. These images are rich in sensory detail (the appearance, smell and taste of a drink), simulating the desired experience and conveying the pleasure or relief of the real thing. Being proximal and concrete, these highly vivid images dominate experience and drive out the intention to abstain. I shall review evidence from laboratory and field studies testing EI theory, and present some preliminary data on a novel motivational intervention called Functional Imagery Training, or FIT. The focus of FIT is on making the imagery associated with succeeding in a quit attempt richer and more concrete, so that it can compete with the shorter term temptations, and help people to withstand them.

18 November 2015 - Stephanie Dornschneider  Buckingham University  Whether to Protest: Evidence from the Arab Spring.

  • During mass uprisings, why do certain people join the protests against their governments, while others stay at home? Focusing on structural or organizational factors that contribute to political mobilization, much of the existing literature fails to address this difference in behavior. In response, this presentation draws on the literature on beliefs and belief systems to explore the reasoning processes by which individuals (fail to) decide to join political protests. Focusing on the Arab Spring as a particular case, it examines 121 protestors and non-protestors from Egypt - a country where the Arab Spring protests led to the fall of the president - and Morocco - a country where the head of state did not resign as a result of the uprisings. Information about the reasoning processes of these individuals was gathered through field research (ethnographic interviews) and Facebook groups. To construct reasoning processes from these sources, the analysis applied qualitative methods developed by Strauss and Corbin, coding the people's direct speech into beliefs, belief connections (inferences), and decisions for actions. To analyze these data, which consist of trillions of combinations of beliefs and inferences, the analysis developed a computational model (in Python). The model systematically evaluates the protestors' and non-protestors' reasoning processes, contributing new insight into the sources of political protest.

11 November 2015 - Clare Press  Birkbeck, University of London Mapping between action and action perception: Domain-specificity and implications for autism

  • Mechanisms which map between the visual appearance of an action and the motor codes required to perform it are crucial for a range of functions, including imitation and action control, and possibly also play a role in action perception and understanding. The first part of my talk will present some studies addressing the domain-specificity of underlying mechanisms. It will examine whether the mechanisms mapping motor codes to observed actions are separable from those mapping motor codes to associated inanimate events, as required for stamping on the brake pedal when we see a red light. It will also investigate whether action influences perception of predicted sensory consequences in a different manner from inanimate predictive events. The second part of my talk will present work addressing differences in action production and perception in autism, and asking which mechanisms may be functioning atypically.

4 November 2015 - Fred Cummins University College Dublin Prayer, Protest and Football: the Puzzles of Joint Speech

  • Joint speech is an umbrella term covering choral speech, synchronous speech, chant, and all forms of speech where many people say the same thing at the same. Under an orthodox linguistic analysis, there is nothing here to study, as the formal symbolic structures of joint speech do not appear to differ from those of language arising in other forms of practice. As a result, there is essentially no body of scientific inquiry into practices of joint speaking. Yet joint speaking practices are ubiquitous, ancient, and deeply integrated into rituals and domains to which we accord the highest significance. I will discuss Joint Speech, as found in prayer, protest, classrooms, and sports stadia around the world. If we merely take the time to look there is much to be found in joint speech that is crying out for elaboration and investigation. I will attempt to sketch the terra incognita that opens up and present a few initial findings (phonetic, anthropological, neuroscientific) that suggest that Joint Speech is far from being a peripheral and exotic special case. It is, rather, a central example of language use that must inform our theories of what language and languaging are.

21 October 2015 Stephen Hall, Plymouth University. Brain rhythms: where do they come from and what do they mean?

  • Brain rhythms or ‘Oscillations’ are neuronal network phenomena, first recorded almost a century ago. In the time since these first recordings, brain rhythms have been studied across a wide range of species, under many different experimental conditions. Here, I will introduce the topic of brain rhythms, through a discussion of the various cognitive and behavioural functions in which they have been implicated. I will describe some of the basic physiological principles of oscillations and how this relates to our ability to measure them. I will discuss some of the differences between evoked and induced oscillations. Finally, I will explore some of the theories surrounding the potential significance and importance of these phenomena (or epiphenomena?).

25 March 2015 - Douglas Martin, University of Aberdeen. How do cultural stereotypes form? 

  • We all share knowledge of the cultural stereotypes associated with social groups (e.g., Scottish people are miserly, scientists are geeky, men like the colour blue) – but what are the origins of these stereotypes? We have examined the possibility that stereotypes form spontaneously as information is repeatedly passed from person to person. As information about novel social targets is passed down a chain of individuals, what initially begins as a set of random associations evolves into a system that is simplified and categorically structured. Following repeated social transmission, novel stereotypes emerge that are not only increasingly learnable but that also allow generalizations to be made about previously unseen social targets. By understanding how cognitive and social factors influence the cumulative cultural evolution of stereotypes in the lab, it might be possible to gain insight into how stereotypes might naturally evolve or be manipulated.

18 March 2015 - Matt Davis, MRC-CBU, University of Cambridge. Predicting and perceiving degraded speech.

  • Human listeners are better than machines at perceiving and comprehending speech – particularly if the speech signal is acoustically degraded or ambiguous. This is in part because we are better at using higher-level language knowledge to support perception and we are more able to rapidly learn about speech sounds, words and meanings. In this talk I will argue that a computational account of speech perception based on predictive coding explains both our ability to use prior knowledge to guide immediate perception, and longer-term perceptual learning. I will describe recent behavioural, MEG/EEG and multivoxel pattern-analysis fMRI experiments using artificially degraded (noise-vocoded) speech that are consistent with this account.

11 March 2015 - Bradley Love, University College London. Decoding the brain's algorithm for categorisation from its neural implementation.

  • How do we learn to categorise novel items and what is the brain basis of these acts? In this talk, I will discuss work using model-based fMRI analyses to understand how people learn categories from examples. I will focus on category structures that have a rule-plus-exception structure. For example, a child may acquire the rule “If it has wings, then it is a bird,” but then must account for exceptions to this rule, such as bats. Results indicate that the medial temporal lobe (MTL) plays an important role in both recognising and learning exception items. I will end by considering a new method that allows one to use fMRI data to decide between competing cognitive models. Results indicate that the basis of category knowledge is surprisingly concrete (i.e., exemplar or episodic) in nature. This technique allows one to unravel the contributions of different processes (e.g., top-down attention) in shaping observed behaviour.