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Linguistics and Cognitive Science

Research Presentation Video

Watch Mauricio Navarro '14 discuss his research project.



Putting the Testing Effect to the Test: Studying Versus Testing to Reduce Word Retrieval Failures

Emma Gardner (2016); Mentor(s): Deborah Burke

Abstract: Previous research has shown that long-term retention of new learning benefits more from repeated testing than from repeated studying. This has been attributed to the more frequent self-generated retrieval attempts involved in testing than in studying. In the present study, the repeated study versus testing paradigm is applied to tip-of-the-tongue experiences (TOTs) to see if the “testing effect” holds true for previously-learned information as well. A TOT is the temporary inability to retrieve the phonology of a well-known word or name despite access to its meaning or other features. In the Study condition, half of the participants were repeatedly given the answers to TOT-inducing questions to study; in the Test condition, the other half were tested repeatedly on the same questions with no feedback. On the final test one week later, correct responses increased from the initial test, with a greater effect for participants in the Study condition than in the Test condition because Don’t Know responses decreased most in the Study condition. TOTs decreased from the first to the final test in both groups, and this effect did not vary with the condition. These preliminary results suggest that repeated retrieval attempts with no feedback and repeated studying are equally effective in preventing future TOTs for a target word. The testing effect thus does not apply in the same way to TOTs, implying that retrieval of new learning involves a different pathway than that for old learning.
Funding Provided by: Fletcher Jones Foundation; Hirsch Grant

Los Gorilas in Our Midst: Bilingualism and Inattentional Blindness

Emily Wasserman (2015); Mentor(s): Deborah Burke

Abstract: Following previous results which indicate advantages for bilinguals on various non-verbal executive function tasks, including measures of attention and control, the present research aimed to investigate whether bilinguals would be less likely than monolinguals to notice the unexpected stimulus in an inattentional-blindness task. If bilinguals do possess superior attentional skills in general, it might be expected that they would show an advantage in focusing on a target stimulus, thus failing to notice the unexpected introduction of another stimulus. Each of 50 college-age subjects (29 bilingual) completed a series of executive tasks, including two measures of inattentional blindness, in one of two orders. Results showed no significant differences in noticing rates between the bilingual and monolingual groups on either task. Though conclusions are difficult to draw given the lack of between-group differences in the data, this is possibly due to a ‘ceiling effect’ in the executive performance of young adults, which would mitigate any performance differences between bilingual and monolingual groups. Future extensions of this research would therefore seek to explore any differences on these tasks between bilinguals and monolinguals within different age strata.
Funding Provided by: Fletcher Jones Foundation

Non-linguistic communication in rhesus macaque monkeys and bottlenose dolphins

Sasha Winkler (2014); Additional Collaborator(s): Brianne Beisner (UC Davis); Eliza Bliss-Moreau (UC Davis); Mentor(s): Deborah Burke

Abstract: My SURP research used behavioral biology and bioacoustics techniques to understand the meaning of specific behavioral signals in rhesus macaques and bottlenose dolphins. These species are of particular interest because of their complex social structures and communication repertoires. The goal of the first study was to understand the behavioral contexts in which silent bared teeth (SBT) displays occur in rhesus macaques and whether they truly are “fear grimaces,” as suggested in previous literature. I observed spontaneous behaviors of members of a socially-housed group of 135 rhesus macaques, using focal and event sampling. Preliminary results show that SBTs often occur in peaceful contexts and are generally given by subordinate monkeys to dominant monkeys. This suggests that SBTs may be a complex signal used in social interactions to communicate subordination, unrelated to fear. The goal of the second study was to find evidence of communication of affective states in bottlenose dolphin vocalizations. I analyzed recordings of dolphin vocalizations for differences in various acoustical parameters across high and low arousal states and positive and negative valence states. Parameters associated with emotion or arousal in humans and other mammals were examined in the dolphin recordings to look for interspecies commonalities. We are still processing the data associated with this study, but finding differences may have important consequences for captive dolphin management and welfare.
Funding Provided by: Paul K. Richter and Evelyn E. Cook Richter Memorial Fund

Transfeminine Identity in Guadalajara: An Analysis of Sociolinguistic Practices

Mauricio Navarro (2014); Mentor(s): David Divita

Abstract: Transfeminine* speakers, like others of non¬heteronormative gender identities and sexualities, often employ particular sociolinguistic practices to construct and negotiate their social identities. The grammatical structure of Romance languages, such as Spanish, allows speakers unique opportunities to navigate the complex contexts presented by gender transfeminine identity and expression. Drawing on research in the emerging field of Queer Linguistics, I conducted in-depth interviews with 7 transfeminine-identified people in Guadalajara, Mexico. The subjects interviewed include transsexual women, travestis, and gender non-conforming people on the transfeminine spectrum. Most of the practices documented in the interviews revolve around the strategically fluid use of masculine and feminine grammatical gender markers, including multiple personal names, pronouns, and descriptive adjectives. I will use the data collected from these interviews to complete a fuller sociolinguistic analysis, perhaps in the form of my senior thesis.
*‘Transfeminine’ can describe a range of feminine gender identities and expressions with which people that were male-assigned at birth may align themselves.
Funding Provided by: Aubrey H. and Eileen J. Seed Student Research Fund

Pupillometry in Attentional Blink

Karin Denton (2015); Mentor(s): Jesse Harris

Abstract: A growing body of research indicates that increased pupil dilation corresponds to increased cognitive load, including target identification. For instance, when subjects are instructed to detect a specific sensory signal, their pupils dilate significantly upon presentation of the target signal. We used pupillometry as a tool to investigate the attentional blink, a well-documented effect in which subjects are less likely to identify a second target (T2) if it appears 200-500ms after a previous target (T1) among several stimuli presented for 100ms each in a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) paradigm. Subjects (N=20) viewed RSVP streams in which number targets were dispersed among letter distractors, while the eye tracker measured pupil diameter. Half the trials were button trials, in which subjects pressed a button when they saw a target; the others were writing trials, in which subjects wrote down which targets were presented at the end of each trial. We found diminished T2 accuracy when T2 was in the attentional blink range, as expected. Unexpectedly, participants performed better on the writing task if they had completed the button task first. Over 2 million pupil measurements were taken, which are still being analyzed. We are interested in looking for pupillary dilation in response to unreported targets, which would indicate that the missed targets were identified unconsciously, and whether the more time-sensitive button task results in larger pupil dilations than the writing task.
Funding Provided by: Paul K. Richter and Evelyn E. Cook Richter Memorial Fund

Making Polite Inferences in Japanese: The “N Desu” Phrase

Will Hunt (2014); Additional Collaborator(s): Kyoko Kurita; Mentor(s): Jesse Harris

Abstract: Many English speakers find Japanese difficult to study for various reasons. Writing system aside, Japanese language includes sociolinguistic elements such as politeness, which can be difficult to grasp for speakers of the majority of the world’s languages, which don’t have politeness and other usually implied language directly coded within the language. One such elusive phrase is the “N Desu” phrase, which Japanese speakers themselves often have trouble explaining to Japanese learners, who often truggle with when and how to use the phrase. It has been described as an “explanatory” sentence ending, but has many uses. This summer I have begun investigating this phrase in greater detail from a linguistic perspective in hopes to get at the heart of the phrase’s meaning and usage. Studying previous research on Japanese language and politeness and conducting a few pilot studies has lead me in several different directions, unraveling more uses of the phrase and possibilities as I continue to investigate. Drawing from Japanese cultural values placed on discourse, specifically emphasizing the importance of politeness, indirectness and excuse making, my working hypothesis is that the “N Desu” phrase is used to politely allow listeners to make appropriate inferences. In other words, the phrase’s purpose is to guide listeners to relevant information in a polite and culturally appropriate way.
Funding Provided by: Pomona College SURP

Lexical Decision in Real Time

Lindsey Meyer (2014); Mentor(s): Jesse Harris

Abstract: Several models of lexical access propose a two-step dynamic process involving retrieval of (a) the visual/auditory representation of an item and (b) the semantic representation of the item. Although it is unclear how these two steps interact during lexical retrieval, many low-level factors such as frequency are known to impact ease of access. To what extent other factors impact lexical access is an active area of research. In this experiment, we studied lexical access by focusing on the effects of orthographic neighborhood size (the number of words that can be made from a target word by changing only one letter, e.g., clam is a neighbor of cram) and the presence of a high frequency neighbor on the access of words and pseudowords. Subjects performed a lexical decision task rating 96 words and pseudowords (orthographically licit strings without semantic content, e.g., smark) as real words of English or not by pressing one of two on-screen buttons while their mouse movements were tracked. Results revealed a strong inhibitory effect of neighborhood size on the mouse trajectory of pseudoword responses but few significant effects for other variable combinations. We plan to test additional subjects through the fall semester to better compensate for the small effect with a larger sample size. With further analysis, the mouse tracking data has the potential to elucidate the dynamic processing of words and pseudowords, providing insight into the two-step model of lexical access.
Funding Provided by: Pomona College SURP

The Reclamation of Xinka

Rodrigo Ranero (2014); Additional Collaborator(s): COPXIG; Mentor(s): Mary Paster

Abstract: Xinka is a heavily endangered language isolate spoken in southeastern Guatemala. Since the summer of 2012, I have collaborated with the Council of the Xinka People of Guatemala (COPXIG) to improve the teaching of Xinka as a second language in regional schools, in order to ensure the preservation of Xinka for current and future generations. This summer’s work included the following: publication of a second textbook to teach Xinka (Alyamalh Xinka – Wirimalh Xinka, Módulo II: Morfología), teacher workshops in the states of Santa Rosa and Jutiapa, and the completion of the first stages of a long-term community engagement effort intended to raise awareness among Xinka community members of their linguistic rights. Additionally, two COPXIG members and I were invited to present as special guests at the X Congress of Mayan Studies in Guatemala City, which resulted in an increased awareness on the endangerment of Xinka and COPXIG’s efforts to preserve Xinka culture. Other areas of the project currently in progress include the writing of a third textbook focused on syntax, the digitization of all the pedagogical documents, the expansion of the project to the state of Jalapa, and the establishment of alliances with other Xinka organizations to address community participation in the reclamation effort. Given the enthusiastic response received thus far, we predict that this endeavor will have far reaching consequences for the preservation of Xinka.
Funding Provided by: Paul K. Richter and Evelyn E. Cook Richter Memorial Fund; Davis Projects for Peace; Strauss Foundation

Research at Pomona