Speaker: Dr. Neha Khetrapal

Title:  Linguistic Competence on Pronouns in Children with Autism

Date: Friday, 11 March, 1-2 pm 

Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room) 


Language researchers explain the nature of any linguistic phenomena in the adult grammar by studying how children’s competence develops or matures with respect to the chosen linguistic phenomenon. But explaining such competence can be challenging as it is not directly observable in children and has to be discerned from the performance data. The performance data itself is mediated by non-linguistic factors (e.g. working memory) and is not a true representation of linguistic competence. The problems are compounded when the researchers aim to understand linguistic competence in developmental disorders like autism, characterized by communication and language impairments. Is it possible to really know whether such special children are as linguistically competent as their typically developing peers by deploying tasks that tap directly into their competence? The current presentation proposes a novel dynamic Truth Value Judgment Task (TVJT) to assess the understanding of pronouns in sentences like He washed Superman with a sponge. The broader aim was to find out whether children with autism respect grammatical constraints of their first language (e.g. English) and are able to demonstrate syntactic/grammatical knowledge when interpreting phrases like these where the referent of the pronoun (he) cannot be found within the sentence. Or in other words, Superman is not a legitimate referent. 10 children on the autism spectrum (chronological ages 5;4 to 12;7; M = 10.5), classified as high functioning were tested on a specially developed TVJT that was presented on an iPad. The experimental findings showed that children with autism were as competent as a control group of typically developing children (matched on nonverbal IQ) on this task assessing their grammatical knowledge. Results indicate no deviance of grammatical development in contrast to other recent studies and highlight the importance of using a sensitive task for working with children with special needs.  

About the Speaker:

Neha is a Psychology (Honors) graduate from University of Delhi (Lady Shri Ram College) and a Master’s degree holder in Cognitive Science from University of Allahabad. She finally finished her PhD program at in 2015 and was supported by the International Post Graduate Research Scholarship (IPRS) for the tenure. She is interested in various aspects of child language development, social and cognitive psychology. Currently she a research scientist/post doctoral fellow at the Institute of High Performance Computing, A*Star, Singapore where she is investigating music as a tool for achieving emotional regulation and improved communication in children on the autism spectrum. 



Speaker: Dr. O’Dhaniel Mullette-Gillman

Title:  From count to worth – neural mechanisms of the value-to-utility transformation

Date: Friday, 4 March, 1-2 pm 

Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room) 


When choosing between options, we do not simply choose the option that is the most numerous or largest. Rather, we must first transform the options from objective count to subjective worth in order to determine the best one. We sought the neural mechanisms of this value-to-utility transformation, localizing it to the dorsal anterior midcingulate cortex (daMCC), with in-study replication. The daMCC encodes the information necessary to convert from value (count) to utility (worth). For a given value, daMCC activation corresponds to diminished subjective valuation and deactivation to enhanced subjective valuation. Effective connectivity analyses identified a network of regions that may provide contextual information to the daMCC and allow for outputs to modulate valuative signals. These novel results identify the neural locus through which value, context, and preferences are integrated to produce subjective valuation. I will discuss these results and their integration with our prior studies (such as the neural basis of emotional modulation of moral decision making) and our on-going studies investigating the integration of value across domains. 

About the Speaker:

Dr. O’Dhaniel Mullette-Gillman is an Assistant Professor at the National University of Singapore in the Psychology Department of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, an Assistant Professor at the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Neuroscience in the Neuroscience and Behavioral Disorders Program, and a Principle Investigator at SINAPSE (Singapore Institute for Neurotechnology). He received his PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience from Dartmouth College, under the supervision of Profs. Jennifer Groh and Yale Cohen, investigating the integration of visual and auditory spatial signals within the parietal cortex. Post-doctoral position with Prof. Paul Glimcher at NYU’s Center for Neural Science, investigating the role of dopamine in value learning. Post-doctoral position with Prof. Scott Huettel at Duke University in the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and Brain Imaging and Analysis Center, investigating the neural basis of valuation and executive functions (Decision Neuroscience / Neuroeconomics) across multiple methodologies – fMRI, tryptophan depletion, hormones, and behavioral genetics. 



Speaker: Prof Denis Burnham 

Title: Auditory-Visual Speech Perception and Language Acquisition: Developmental and Cross-Language Influences

Date: Wednesday 24 February, 2-3 pm 

Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room) 


Infants’ universal perception of the speech sounds of the world’s languages becomes tuned to their specific language environment over four functionally adaptive stages – phonetic, phonemic, semantic, and orthographic, in which re-organisation and new modes of representing speech are cumulatively added. Using this framework, some studies of auditory speech perception development will be presented ahead of research on auditory-visual speech perception and language development will both over age, and across languages. The talk will conclude by considering critical impetuses for quantal developments in auditory-visual speech perception – the nature and role of infant-directed speech to the infant in different contexts and language environments, the nature of the surrounding spoken and the written language environment, and what might happen in children at risk for dyslexia. 

About the Speaker:

 During PhD in Psychology and a junior faculty position at Monash (1975-1981), then later in Psychology at the University of NSW (1981-1999) Denis researched infant perceptual development, and from the mid-80s and throughout the 90s he also embraced cross-disciplinary research of speech perception as a precursor to later language development, working with developmental psychologists, linguists, experimental phoneticians, engineers and speech scientists. Following his appointment as inaugural Director of MARCS at the University of Western Sydney in 1999 (until 2014), his research focus on experiential and inherited influences in speech and language development continued to develop in – infant speech perception; infant speech input – infant-directed speech and other special speech registers, infant-, pet-, foreigner-, computer-, and lover-directed speech; cross-language studies with some emphasis on tone and pitch-accented languages, and lexical tone perception and production, and relations with other language and music skills; auditory-visual speech perception; hearing impairment – captions for the hearing impaired, and speech perception development in and speech input to infants with hearing aids and cochlear implants; speech-music interactions; human-machine interaction; speech corpus studies; and the role of infants’ early perceptual experience and expertise in literacy development. 



Speaker: Dr. Sean Kang

Title: Applying Cognitive Science Principles to Promote Durable and Efficient Learning

Date: Friday, February 19, 1-2 pm 

Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room) 


Do tests only measure learning, or can they also promote learning? Should students review/practise the material they are trying to learn soon after they encounter the material or should they wait a while? During practice, should items of the same type/topic be grouped together or should they be interspersed among items of other types/topics? How we learn best may not correspond to how we think we learn best. I will talk about how basic research in cognitive psychology has yielded (nonobvious) principles about human learning and memory that have practical implications for instruction.

About the Speaker:

Sean Kang is an assistant professor in the Department of Education at Dartmouth College (USA). His research is focused on applying the cognitive science of human learning and memory towards improving instructional practice, and he currently serves as an associate editor for the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology. He received his undergraduate education at the National University of Singapore, and subsequently obtained his Ph.D. in cognitive psychology at Washington University in St. Louis. Prior to joining Dartmouth in 2012, Sean was a post-doctoral research scholar at the University of California, San Diego.



Speaker: Prof Richard Ebstein

Title: Delay discounting, genetic sensitivity, and leukocyte telomere length

Date: Friday, February 5, 1-2 pm 

Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room) 

About the Speaker:

 Richard Ebstein’s research revolves around human behavior genetics, with the overarching goal of providing molecular insights into the role of genes as a partial contributor to all facets of human behavior. His work is highly interdisciplinary and combines personality, social, cognitive, and neuropsychology with techniques of molecular genetics. Major research areas include neuroeconomics, the genetics of social behavior and normal personality, autism, ADHD, eating disorders, and substance abuse.



Speaker: Dr. Cheung Hoi Shan

Title: Cultural variations in the measurement and significance of maternal sensitivity

Date: Friday, January 29, 1-2 pm 

Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room) 


Although there is increasing interest in parenting and child development issues in Singapore, research in this field remains sparse. Local researchers and practitioners often find themselves having to rely on instruments or questionnaires developed in the West for research and programme evaluation. This is not ideal, mainly because we do not know if the instruments validly measure the same concept in Singapore, as they do in the West. This presentation discusses one recent effort in checking the relevance of a widely-used parental sensitivity measure – the Emotional Availability (EA) sensitivity scale – using a sample of Singaporean mothers and preschoolers. 

Participants were mainly from middle-class families from Chinese, Malay, Indian and ‘Other’ ethnic groups. Study 1 involved 30 mother-child dyads (children aged 4 to 6). Scores on EA sensitivity and the Maternal Behavior Q-set were highly correlated, suggesting convergent validity. In Study 2 (164 mother-child dyads), criterion validity was tested by the associations between EA sensitivity and children’s vocabulary and likeability by peers. Unlike findings from similar studies conducted in the U.S., EA sensitivity was negatively correlated with children’s likeability by female peers, suggesting that measures developed in Western contexts may not be fully applicable locally, or that the meaning of sensitivity may vary across cultures. 

About the Speaker:

 Hoi Shan is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology, NUS. Her research focusses on cultural differences in parenting practices, and their influence on the interpretation of parent-child relationship quality and children’s developmental outcomes.


Speaker: Dr. Narun “Non” Pornpattananangkul
Title: Mid-Frontal Cognitive-Control Signals: a Hub for Social, Emotional, and Motivational Processing?
Date: 15 January, 1-2 pm
Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room)
Recently, cognitive neuroscientists have identified a family of neural signals that involve in realization of the need for cognitive-control. These so-called mid-frontal cognitive-control signals are enhanced, for instance, to 1) a NoGo stimulus that signals individuals to inhibit their response in a Go/NoGo task, or to 2) an important feedback that informs individuals about their performance. These mid-frontal cognitive-control signals can be quantified through ERPs (e.g., the N2 and Feedback-Related Negativity, FRN), EEG oscillations (e.g., the Frontal-Midline Theta, FMT) or fMRI (e.g., BOLD activity in the ACC). Nonetheless, it is less clear 1) how social, emotional and motivational factors modulate these cognitive-control signals, and more importantly, 2) how changes in these signals relate to decision-making. In a series of experiments, I will demonstrate, firstly, that social (e.g., cultural values), emotional (e.g., emotional-temperaments and stimulus’ valence) and motivational (e.g., monetary rewards) factors modulate these cognitive-control signals. Secondly, I will further demonstrate that these signals, in turn, predict decision-making, including 1) trial-by-trial deception behaviors as well as 2) individual-differences in delay-discounting. Hence, I argue that mid-frontal cognitive-control signals can be considered a hub that integrates social, emotional, motivational information, and ultimately influences decision-making.
About the Speaker:
Narun “Non” Pornpattananangkul is a postdoctoral research fellow in Dr. Rongjun Yu’s Decision Lab. He completed his Ph.D. in Brain, Behavior and Cognition at Northwestern University, USA, in 2015 where he conducted cognitive neuroscience research on cognitive-control and reward-processing. His current research at NUS is on economic decision-making, using several techniques such as EEG, fMRI, concurrent EEG-fMRI, intracranial EEG, hormone and computational modeling.




Speaker: Professor Brent Vogt

Title: Cingulate Neurobiology: Region and Subregion Models

Date: Tuesday November 24, 12-1 pm

Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room)


All neurobiology begins with anatomical localization(s). The designation of an area, region or subregion declares that functional differences exist even before functional studies are initiated. While the Brodmann map of 1909 is recognized for its various deficiencies, functional imaging research continues to rely on this early, pre-neurobiological view of cingulate cortex with its anterior and posterior cortices (ACC and PCC) that are ensconced as “labels” for structural and functional studies. One of its greatest deficiencies is the lack of a vast midcingulate region (MCC) between ACC and PCC. We will explore the cytoarchitectural, connectional, ligand binding and functional rationale for distinguishing MCC from its adjacent regions. The key feature of MCC is its motor output system to the spinal cord from the cingulate premotor areas that engage in feedback-mediated decision making. This contrasts with ACC which is engaged in autonomic regulation and emotional activations and PCC that is engaged in spatial orientation in multisensory spaces and personally relevant contexts. Each of the four regions (including retrosplenial cortex; RSC) are not homogeneous; i.e., they each are comprised of two subregions for a total of eight which emerge from anatomical and functional analyses. These subregions are not simply “labels” but rather models of structure/function entities. The predictive validity of such models will be evaluated by the extent to which particular psychiatric disorders and drug therapeutics impact each subregion; in depression for ACC, migraine, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and Tourette syndrome for aMCC, progressive supranuclear palsy, unipolar depression and PTSD for pMCC and Alzheimer’s disease for PCC. Further, methylphenidate, Ibuprofen, and ketamine have unique actions in aMCC that suggest mechanisms for actions in ADHD and pain control. Thus, the 8 subregion models of cingulate cortex have been extensively validated with modern imaging techniques and should be a part of all studies of cingulate cortex. 

About the Speaker:

Dr. Vogt received his B.A. cum laude from Northeastern University and has worked at the Harvard Neurological Unit where he published a seminal article on limbic pain circuitry. He received a Ph.D. at BUSM in 1979 and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in neurophysiology at the same school. He currently holds faculty appointments at the Institute of Neurosciences and Medicine (Jülich, Germany) and the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at BUSM. Dr. Vogt is the founder of Cingulum Neurosciences Institute, which is dedicated to exploring the structure, functions and diseases of cingulate cortex. He published the highly acclaimed Cingulate Neurobiology and Disease in 2009 (Oxford University Press) and has published seminal articles on the circuitry and role of cingulate cortex in chronic pain, placebo, hypnosis, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and mild cognitive impairment. 




Speaker: A/P Murray Maybery

Title: Continuity along the Autism Spectrum in Perceptual and Biological Markers

Date: Thursday 19 November, 12-1 pm

Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room)


Substantial research effort has been invested in identifying a unique cognitive or perceptual profile for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). A potential application of this work is in identifying early neurocognitive markers for the disorder, with potential biological markers also under intense investigation. Our research at UWA has combined investigations of children with ASD with investigations that compare groups of young adults screened for high versus low levels of mild autistic-like traits. These two lines of research provide evidence that children with ASD and adults with high levels of autistic-like traits share a profile characterized by an advantage in low-level visual search processes but a disadvantage in visual integration. Other work from our group provides preliminary evidence that physical features may also provide subtle markers for autism.  In particular, evidence from studies of clinical groups and from groups on the broader spectrum converge in suggesting that autism is characterized by the masculinization of facial features.

About the Speaker:

Murray Maybery (PhD, University of Queensland) is Head of the School of Psychology at the University of Western Australia, ranked 27th in the world for Psychology in the QS University Rankings.  A/Prof Maybery has published 140 peer-reviewed journal articles or book chapters, which have been cited more than 4,200 times. His research spans work on typical cognition in adults and children to research on atypical cognition and perception in special populations such as individuals affected by schizophrenia or autism. The influence of hormones on the development of autistic traits is also under investigation. Current work by A/Prof Maybery’s research team is funded by the Australian Research Council, the National Health and Medical Research Council, and the Autism Cooperative Research Centre.

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