Category Archives: Readings

Connectionism and action sequences

Botvinick, M., & Plaunt, D. C. (2002). Representing task context: proposals based on a connectionist model of action. Psychological Research, 66, 298-311. DOI 10.1007/s00426-002-0103-8

Representations of task context play a crucial role in shaping human behavior. While the nature of these representations remains poorly understood, existing theories share a number of basic assumptions. One of these is that task representations are discrete, independent, and non-overlapping. We present here an alternative view, according to which task representations are instead viewed as graded, distributed patterns occupying a shared, continuous representational space. In recent work, we have implemented this view in a computational model of routine sequential action. In the present article, we focus specifically on this model’s implications for understanding task representation, considering the implications of the account for two influential concepts: (1) cognitive underspecification, the idea that task representations may be imprecise or vague, especially in contexts where errors occur, and (2) information-sharing, the idea that closely related operations rely on common sets of internal representations.

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Wither consciousness?

Bargh, J. A., & Chartrand, T. L. (1999). The unbearable automaticity of being. American Psychologist, 54, 462-479.

What was noted by E. J. hanger (1978) remains true today: that much of contemporary psychological research is based on the assumption that people are consciously and systematically processing incoming information in order to construe and interpret their world and to plan and engage in courses of action. As did E. J. hanger, the authors question this assumption. First, they review evidence that the ability to exercise such conscious, intentional control is actually quite limited, so that most of moment-to-moment psychological life must occur through nonconscious means if it is to occur at all. The authors then describe the different possible mechanisms that produce automatic, environmental control over these various phenomena and review evidence establishing both the existence of these mechanisms as well as their consequences for judgments, emotions, and behavior. Three major forms of automatic self-regulation are identified: an automatic effect of perception on action, automatic goal pursuit, and a continual automatic evaluation of one’s experience. From the accumulating evidence, the authors conclude that these various nonconscious mental systems perform the lion’s share of the self-regulatory burden, beneficently keeping the individual grounded in his or her current environment.

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Schacter, Chiu, and Ochsner: Implicit memory

Schacter, D. L., Chiu, P. C. -Y., Ochsner, K. N. (1993). Implicit memory: A selective review. Annual Reviews of Neuroscience, 16, 159-182.

Memory is not a unitary phenomenon. Some memory processes are driven by conscious effort to bring to mind previously encountered information (declarative memory). Similarly, we might consciously try to recreate previous experiences, recalling where we were, what we were feeling, what we were sensing, etc. (episodic memory). These are explicit memory processes; whcih I think of as memory of. (I have a memory of an episode in my life, or an explict memory of a list that I learned.)

Other times, though, memory is apparent without conscious effort, and without any explicit effort either during encoding or retrieval. This is memory for; our knowledge of how to do things, contrasted with the propositional knowledge above (“knowledge that”).

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Baddeley’s working memory may not play a role in speech production

Gathercole, S., & Baddeley, A. (1993). Working memory and language (pp. 161-175). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlsbaum.

Gathercole and Baddeley argue that working memory might play two roles in speech production.

Working memory in a between-processes role.
Working memory might serve as a buffer for output. If speech production is a stage-based process, with different levels of representation of language content (message, function, position, sound), working memory may hold the output from processing at one level so that it can be picked up as input for processing at another.

Is the phonological loop identical with a motor planning buffer? Probably not. In studies of speech-onset timing, there is little difference between simple reaction time experiments–where a participant is told a target word to say, and then presented with a cue to say it– and experiments where they are asked to fill the time intervening between target word and cue with nonsense syllables. If the phonological loop were a working space for motor planning, rehearsing the nonsense sylalbles should impede the production of the target word. It is possible that we construct rather lengthy motor programs (above the word or stress group level), by combining sub programs in some working space, but that space may not be the phonological loop.

Some correlational evidence in neurophysiology might speak to a connection between the phonological loop and a motor planning buffer: e.g. Broca’s aphasics show deficits in fluent speech and in short term memory. Importantly, though, there seems a quite demonstrable dissociation: there are patients with relatively profound loss of short-term memory skills, but who, nonetheless, retain fluent speech planning.

It may be that, while the phonological loop is not necessary as a buffer for output from speech planning systems, it may well be that the same processes that underly articulation underlie subvocal rehearsal processes (repeating things to oneself), and might show correlated effects from damage or interference.

Working memory in a within processes role.
Alternatively, or perhaps additionally, working memory might serve a _within-processes_ role. For instance, “to achieve a positional level representation, the phonological specifications of the main lexical items must then be retrieved, a planning frame for the sentence constructed, the words inserted into the planning frame, and the appropriate affixes and function words assessed and inserted.” All of this activity requires interactivity between the cognitive “thing” that will eventually be the utterance, and all this stuff in long-term memory (meanings of words, syntactic structures appropriate to the language, etc.). Working memory may serve as the workshop for all of this cognitive processing. The central executive may be most at work here.

Loading the central executive with tasks (like remembering 6 digits while also trying to form interesting, grammatical sentences) results in speech that is more stereotyped and predictable than when the central executive is less loaded with activity. The effect is small, and present only in relatively difficult conditions (e.g. 6 digit task) rather than in easier condition that might be handled solely by the phonological loop (a 3 digit task). More work needs to be done here.

Developmental trajectories.
Though the phonological loop may not be synonymous with the motor buffer for speech production in adults, it is possible that it plays a greater role in the speech production of children. Similarly, the automaticity of much of adult speech, and it’s relative independence from other cogitive and physically demanding activty, may suggest a relatively minor role of the central executive in production. However, in children who haven’t yet the levels of practice to automate the task of speaking, the central executive may be more involved, and speech less independent of other tasks.

My questions

  1. Would we expect deaf children (particularly of deaf parents) to have a “cheremological loop?” Would we expect differences (in function, capacity, etc.) in such a system? Would it be different still from the visuo-spatial sketchpad?
  2. Does the evidence for dissociation between perception/memory tasks and speech production, which Gathercole believes fails to support a meaningful connection between working memory processes and a buffer for motor planning activities, pose similar challenges for a connectionist model of production? A symbolic approach to mental functioning would seem quite amenable to this idea of dissociation–my idea of a “chair” need not be tied to any particular acquisition event or any particular type of behavioral output (including speech) related to chairs. In a connectionist model, wouldn’t we anticipate more of a connection — if my idea of “chair” is really a certain mental state of shared activation across input, output, and hidden nodes, wouldn’t we predict more of a relationship between perception, memory, and production?
  3. In the first paragraph of the “Speeded Speech Production” section, Gathercole discusses the simple reaction time and choice reaction time tests. This may be a problem with her paraphrase, rather than a design problem in the experiments, but in the simple reaction time experiment participants were “told” (one would believe via speech) the target word. In the choice reaction time experiment, participants read words visually. Could some of the syllable-length effects be due to the fact that participants who are told a word are given a pretty good model of how to articulate that word, while reading requires a bit more translation into an appropriate motor plan?

Gathercole & Baddeley: Introduction to working memory

Gathercole, S., & Baddeley, A. (1993). Working memory and language (pp. 1-12). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlsbaum.

Working memory, here, is “the short-term memory system, which is involved in the temporary processing and storage of information.” Baddeley’s model is a “resources” model (as opposed to a discrete slots model, or a decay model, or an interference model) of short-term memory.

The working memory model proposed is tripartite. The first component, a central executive, monitors two slave systems: a phonological loop and a visuo-spatial sketchpad. (This latter is little involved in speech perception, so I will ignore it here.)

The central executive is involved in selective control of action, planning, coordination of tasks, possibly consciousness. This executive might be a unitary process, or it might be several cooperative subprocesses. Tasks that require the inhibition of prepotent responses in favor of more novel responses would seem to involve the central executive.

The authors propose that the phonological loop has two processes. The first of these is a passive buffer of sorts, that takes in phonological information from the environment. This buffer is subject to word length effects: the more syllables in a set of target words, the more difficult those targets are to remember, possibly because the ribbon of the loop is too short to capture them all. The buffer is also subject to articulatory suppression effects–when we are prohibited from beginning to subvocally rehearsing, retention suffers.

The second process is an articulatory rehearsal process. This process is subject to phonological similarity effects: when target words share phonological characters, they are more difficult to remember. It is subjct to irrelevant speech effects, too. When non-target words share similar phonology–independent of whether they might share semantic or lexical similarity–they interfer more readily with retention of target words.

Some of my questions

  1. Do fast talkers routinely test better on working memory than slow talkers do?
  2. The authors offer up as evidence of capacity limits for the phonological loop that longer words (more syllables and/or more time necessary to articulate) results in lower recall scores. Is word length confounded with corpus frequency? Do the effects remain when controlling for distributional differences? [2b] In visual attention/working memory research, we see that sometimes what’s touted as resource-driven, qualitative effects (e.g. lower memory span for complex objects than for simple objects; as in Alvarez & Cavanaugh, 2004), can be explained in favor of a simple, relatively high fidelity “slot” model, where the object is stored well (complex or not), but where participants are just really bad at making comparisons (Awh, Barton, & Vogel, 2007). I wonder if something similar might occur in the phonological loop?
  3. “The probability of losing a phonological feature which discriminates the item form other members of the memory set will be greatest when the number of discriminating features is smallest.” Two questions about this:
    1. If we’re considering counts of features, this would seem to make sense. However, what about a different dimension, like temporal extent of features? Would we expect a length-limited “tape” in the phonological loop to record with high-fidelity features that have relatively short duration, and perhaps to suffer when important information spans time longer than the tape?
    2. In aggregate, it might be true that items in a set discriminated by n features are less likely to be remembered than items discriminated by n + 1. However, shouldn’t we expect that features enjoy different weighting, and that this cannot be a simple, linear, additive model? For some reason, I’m thinking of the Family Guy use of the utterance “Cool Whip” with the initial consonant in whip oddly aspirated. (Here’s where my ignorance of linguistics starts to show.) In English, aspirated consonants are not generally contrastive (right?), but might we expect sometimes that violations of expectations laid down by the distribution of our experience to be quite marked, and notable even if it’s just a single feature? Similarly, if one lives in a society where post-vocalic /r/ is some marker of group membership, or status, or whatever, might we expect this feature to carry more weight than some other, more culturally neutral, single feature?

Ontogenetic niche

West, M. J., & King, A. P. (1987). Setting nature and nurture into an ontogenetic niche. Developmental Psychobiology, 20, 549-562.

All organisms inherit parents’ genes, but many also inherit parents, peers, and the places they
inhabit as well. We suggest the term ontogenetic niche to signify the ecological and social legacies that accompany genes. A formal name is needed to give the idea of the inherited environment equal status with i�s conceptual cognates; nature and nurture. We argue here that increased recognition of the inherited environment facilitates unification efforts within the developmental sciences by emphasizing the affinity, rather than opposability, of ontogenetic processes.

The authors are rather Whorfian in their motivation:

The addition of a [ontogenetic] niche might seem only a semantic art. We argue later that it is not, but such an interpretation does not bother us because words matter greatly. If we are told nature and nurture compete, we assume divisibility, and we look for the strong and the weak. If we are told they are rivals, we go so fare as to create numerical scores to determine which prevailed. But if we are told nature and nurture are allies, what different ontogenetic process might be proposed and what metrics might evolve to measure their collaborative effects?

Ontological niche as legacy. Parents bequeath an endowment of resources, peers, social standing, and customs at least as important for inheritance as their endowment of genetic material. In this conception, the authors adopt a sense of environment as habitat, with an ecological approach to “nonarbitrary connections between species-typical surroundings and species-typical behavior.” This is such an important point. We often point to things like language or bipedal locomotion in humans as utterly genetic–they are universals, after all, so they must be evolved, “nature” traits. This ignores, of course, that there are a lot of universals of early experience for human kids, and this commonality of experience may be as contributory as any genetic predisposition. Also, this makes me think of B.I.Z.A.R.R.E. chimpanzees.

Ontological niche as link. Because the niche is not just the physical environment, but the social, “niches rest on transgenerational social dynamics.” Our niche reflects our dependencies on one another. In our early niche, we are nourished and cared for. We learn appropriate and inappropriate social behaviors, food preferences, sexual behaviors, parenting skills, Parents nurture offspring; responsive offspring nurture good parenting.

Ontological niche as way of life. A niche “specifies the behavioral adaptations of its occupants.” For mammals, certainly, and likely other critters, play is a behavior often thought of as an ontological adaptation, a chance for the young to, relatively safely, practice and perfect the behaviors (social aggression and cooperation, mating, food gathering, hunting, tool use, etc.) that would be necessary as an adult. The authors warn us, though, of seeing the world of the child through “adultomorphically biased lenses” (yes!).

Watching animals play is seeing them at their best. It is to view professionals in the game of growth.

The authors quote Piaget: play and youthful behaviors “supply evolution with its principle motor.” That is, they argue, playful behaviors, with their inherent variety and novelty are a force for breaking tradition and changing culture. Perhaps. Though I’d note that, in the motor learning literature, for example, the best way to establish a strong schema for an action is through varied practice. That is, learning of the “core” of an action is strongest when we around the that core a bit–rather than massing practiced instance of the core behavior itself. Perhaps the variety we see in play, dancing around the adult forms, is a way to cement culture as much as break it down.

Schmidt on motor schema theory

Schmidt, R. A. (2003). Motor schema theory after 27 years: Reflections and implications for a new theory. Research Quality for Exercise and Sport, 74, 366-375.

Abstract: The schema theory for discrete motor skill learning (Schmidt, 1975), originally published in 1975, has generated considerable interest and received strong challenges over its lifetime. In this paper, I focus on the findings generated since 1975 that bear on the theory and highlight those that produce difficulties for it and will be motivators for differing theoretical viewpoints in the future. At the same time, I examine other lines of evidence that seem to bolster the original lines of thinking. Finally, I provide some suggestions for a much needed new generation of motor learning theory, pointing out particular features.from the schema theory that could be included and suggesting gaps and omissions that will need additional data and theorizing in future attempts.

What defines motor schema theory?

Generalized motor programs. Feedback from the periphery is too slow to account for many skilled actions, so central planning is necessary. Hence the generalized motor program. To account for variability, these central programs can be modified to take different rate and force values.

Two compartments of memory. We employ recall memory when we select the type of movement that will meet our goals in a given context. We employ recognition memory when we evaluate the movement we actually employed against our stored representation of that movement to assess of error.

The schema concept. Schemata are the relations between movement parameters and the outcomes of those movements. Motor learning, then, becomes the the development of schemata.

Solutions to storage and novelty problems. Schema allow for efficient storage (in the fact of, ostensibly, a limited cognitive warehouse) and for diversity of action.

What aspects of the theory should we keep for future theories?

Motor programs. When we look at EMG recordings of blocked vs. unblocked movement, much of the muscle action is identical. This sequencing does not seem like it could be explained by a dynamical systems approach–the pattern can’t just come together by muscle action, because the muscles aren’t really acting. A central plan seems more likely.

Generalized motor program. We see dissociations between a general movement pattern and at least one type of parameter (rate), supporting the contention that we learn a general program and can scale it. However, the initial contention that force was a second parameter that could simply be linearly scaled to make GMPs generalizable does not seem to be the case (e.g. walking under a load involves scaling of the extensor muscles’ force, but no such scaling is necessary for the flexor muscles).

Limitations of the theory

The motor schema concept does not easily address the motor equivalence problem nor does it address issues of hierarchical control (e.g. in writing where the wrist’s function is different from, and in response to, the elbow’s activity). The theory has had little to say about where generalized motor programs originate. GMPs may arise in situations (random practice with reduction in feedback), that encourage a reconstruction of action. Learning GMPs and learning parameters are dissociated because the latter is slowed under similar conditions.

My questions

Let’s say I notice a disparity between the movement I actually employ, and the motor plan that I selected from my repertoire for the situation.

Q1) If the movement failed to achieve the goal, do I…

  1. assume that the essence of the plan was correct, but that my execution was sloppy? or
  2. assume that I executed an action that fit within the limits of the plan, but that the plan didn’t allow for success in these circumstances.

With a) I might conclude that some parameters of my action were outside the bounds that demarcate a productive action? If so, we might expect the representation to narrow, to constrain future motor activity to a more restricted set of movement parameters.

With b), though, it might be that failure leads us to believe that the parameters in the original motor plan were, in fact, too narrow, and should be broadened to improve the plan’s productivity in the world. So we’d update the motor plan to be less restrictive than before.

Q2) Assuming these are both reasonable responses, how does the cognitive architecture choose in which way to update the schema? (This would seem to be an assimilation/accomodation question.)

Q3) Should we think of this in Bayesian terms, with the system holding on to motor plans that have a good history of surviving tests (unless there’s a preponderance of evidence to the contrary), and more likely to change motor plans with a shorter/poorer track record (even with relatively paltry evidence to the contrary)?

Modeling personality

Saucier, G. & Srivastava, S.. (in press). What makes a good structural model of personality? Evaluating the Big Five and alternatives. In M. L. Cooper & R. Larsen (Eds.), Handbook of personality and social psychology: Personality processes and individual differences (Vol. 3). APA Books.

Personality psychology is challenged with the task of identifying the joints at which to carve a person, some minimally comprehensive set of attributes, processes, or other characteristics of a person that serves to describe them, predict behavior and events, and distinguish one person from another. This is Allport’s “unit problem.”

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The Big Five personality traits

John, O. P., Naumann, L. P., & Soto, C. J. (2008). Paradigm shift to the integrative Big Five trait taxonomy: History, measurement, and conceptual issues. In O. P. John, R. W. Robins, & L. A. Pervin (Eds.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (3rd ed., pp. 114-158). New York, NY, US: Guilford Press

The Big Five personality traits (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness) emerged through dictionary work: identifying the thousands of words that English speakers might use to describe themselves or another person, and then subsuming these under a small number of labels based on which labels tend to hang together in such descriptions. These categories seem best defined prototypically–identifying characteristic centers and accepting fuzzy boundaries between categories–than by identifying clear boundaries between them.

John and colleagues provide a quick tour through the similarities and differences of similar personality structures derived from the vernaculars of other cultures and languages and discuss the validity and reliability of measurement of the Big Five.

They finish with a defense of the Big Five as a) only one of several possible levels of analysis (to assuage those who argue that the categories are broad, but incomplete), b) that measures of the Big Five are predictive of important life outcomes (tied to things of real psychological importance, and not just a something about the words we use to describe persons), and c) as a starting point for multiple theoretical approaches, explorations of personality development,  and causal explanations.