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NSF Awards Grant to Investigate Explaining, Exploring, and Reasoning in Museum Settings

Prof. Dave Sobel and his colleagues Maureen Callanan (UCSC) and Cristine Legare (UT-Austin) have won a collaborative NSF grant entitled 'Explaining, Exploring, and Scientific Reasoning in Museum Settings.' The $1.3M grant partners the researchers with three children's museums (Providence Children's Museum, Children's Discovery Center, San Jose, and The Thinkery in Austin). Their objective is to investigate how diverse samples of parents and children engage in explanation and exploration of scientific concepts and learn from those interactions. In addition to uncovering patterns of family explanation and exploration, the proposed studies will measure children’s causal understanding, and will build on this knowledge base to develop and test effective interventions for promoting exploration and explanation and engaging in causal learning .

New Book from Prof. Pauline Jacobson: Compositional Semantics - An Introduction to the Syntax/Semantics Interface

Compositional Semantics: An Introduction to the Syntax/Semantics Interface  by Pauline Jacobson has been published by the Oxford University Press. Professor Jacobson's book provides a ground-up introduction to formal semantics for advanced undergraduates and graduate students in linguistics, philosophy and other related fields, and can also be  read by scholars in fields closely related to linguistics in order to gain an understanding of the fundamentals and breadth of natural language formal semantics. The book adopts the approach of Direct Compositionally, according to which the syntax and semantics of natural languages work together and which has formed  the basis of the author's research program for three decades. Alongside this, the book presents a more mainstream competing view making use of an intermediate level of Logical Form and compares the two with respect to a rich domain of empirical phenomena. The author's own research on direct compositionality and 'variable-free semantics' is woven into the text throughout,  and the work highlights and integrates this research into a coherent framework for analyzing syntax and semantics.  

Read more about this new title at the Oxford University Press site.

Choice Bias: A Quirky Byproduct of Learning From Reward

The price of learning from rewarding choices may be just a touch of self-delusion, according to a new study in Neuron.

The research by Jeffrey Cockburn, a graduate student in the research group of senior author Michael Frank, links a fundamental problem in neuroscience called “credit assignment” — how the brain reinforces learning only in the exact circuits that caused the rewarding choice — to an oft-observed quirk of behavior called “choice bias” – we value the rewards we choose more than equivalent rewards we don’t choose. The researchers used computational modeling and behavioral and genetic experiments to discover evidence that choice bias is essentially a byproduct of credit assignment.

Read more about this research at the Brown News site.

Coaching Parents on Toddler Talk to Address Low-Income Word Gap

By age four, toddlers in low-income families hear 30 million fewer words than those in high-income families. As a result, these children tend to have smaller vocabularies and fall behind in reading. Professor James Morgan contributes to a PBS report about Providence Talks, a program that gets low-income parents talking more to their toddlers.

Watch the video online.

Virtual Crowds Produce Real Behavior Insights

The cognitive scientists in the Virtual Environment Navigation lab at Brown University are not only advancing a frontier of behavioral research but also of technology.

Led by Professor William Warren, the group developed a wireless virtual reality system to study a phenomenon that scientists don’t yet understand: how pedestrians interact with each other and how those individual behaviors, in turn, generate patterns of crowd movement. It’s an everyday experience for all kinds of animals including ants, birds, fish and people.

Read more and view video footage of the VENlab's innovative virtual reality environment and swarm research.

Free Will Seems a Matter of Mind, Not Soul

A new study tested whether people believe free will arises from a metaphysical basis or mental capacity. Even though most respondents said they believed humans to have souls, they judged free will and assigned blame for transgressions based on pragmatic considerations — such as whether the actor in question had the capacity to make an intentional and independent choice.

Read more about this study at the Brown News site.

Can Robots Learn Right From Wrong?

Can a machine have morals?

The more robots are able to do, the more likely they are to face decisions that demand a moral perspective. A new grant from the Office of Naval Research supports work at Tufts University, Brown University, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute aimed at giving robots "moral competence." At Brown, Prof. Brtram Malle is developing a model of moral competence in humans — no small task, but an essential first step.

Read more about this research at the Brown News site.