Language, Attention and Representations in Mind and Brain

Dr Yury Shtyrov, Dr. Andriy Myachykov, Dr Alina Leminen
Host Institution: 

Dear Colleagues

Center for Cognition and Decision Making invites you to a seminar about Language, Attention and Representations in Mind and Brain that will take place on April, 24, at 15.00 in Aud.124 of Higher School of Economics,  Myasnitskaya str.20.

15.00 - 16.00 «Interplay between attention and abstract representations: Language,
numbers, and affordances» Dr Andriy Myachykov, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Northumbria University

16.00 - 17.00 «Attentive and non-attentive processing of morphosyntax in the brain». Dr Alina Leminen, Senior Lecturer in Cognitive Science at the Inst for Behavioural Sciences, Helsinki University & Postdoctoral Researcher at Center of Functionally Integrative Neuroscience, Aarhus University

17.00 -18.00 «Automatic neural discrimination of lexical information in visually presented words» Dr Yury Shtyrov, Professsor and Head of MEG at  Center of Functionally Integrative Neuroscience, Aarhus University.

For participation, please, register at the bottom of this page.

If you need a pass to the HSE, please contact Anastasia Plotnikova via email:

Short annotations: 

1. Dr Andriy Myachykov «Interplay between attention and abstract representations: Language, numbers, and affordances».

The question of the interplay between the domain-general and the domain-specific cognitive systems is at the heart of current psychological and neuroscientific research. This general question can be further subdivided into at least two more detailed questions. First, do mental representations that belong to different knowledge domains share similar organizational principles, resulting either from representational overlap or from the existence of higher-level representations shared between specific knowledge domains? Second, how do different domain-specific processes interface with the general systems of memory and attention? In my research, I pursue these two questions by conducting (1) cross-domain priming studies showing that similar organizational principles underlie representations from different abstract-knowledge systems (e.g. mental arithmetic and language syntax), and (2) studies that investigate the nature and properties of the attentional system subserving abstract (numbers and language) and concrete (manipulation affordances) mental operations. In my presentation, I will discuss results from my recent work in these two interrelated areas

2. Dr Alina Leminen «Attentive and non-attentive processing of morphosyntax in the brain».

The spatiotemporal dynamics and the effect of attention on the neural processing of morphosyntax are still poorly understood. The experiments presented here investigated cortical correlates of the processing of spoken complex words when attention was focused on the stimuli and when it was focused on another stimulus modality. In the first two experiments, the participants were instructed to ignore the incoming morphologically complex stimuli (non-attended task) and concentrate on the silent cartoon or they were to judge the acceptability of each stimulus (attended task). In both tasks, derived words elicited larger sensor-level and neural source responses than inflected words ~100 ms after the suffix onset. At ~200 ms after the suffix onset, inflected words elicited larger responses than other words in the attended task, whereas in the non-attended task word types showed no differences in the responses. The early processing stage thus reflected automatic mapping of incoming acoustic information onto stored representations, whereas later compositional processes at the morphosyntactic-semantic may require focused attention to some extent. In the third study, the participants were presented with derived and inflected words in a passive oddball paradigm. Derived words elicited larger mismatch negativity (MMN) responses and neural source activity than inflected words at ~100 msec after the suffix onset. These results suggest stronger unified cortical memory circuits for derived than inflected words, which are activated automatically, without participants’ focused attention on the stimuli. Overall, the results show that during listening, inflected words are decomposed into their lexical elements, whereas derived words activate both lexical elements and full-form representations. Analysis of cortical sources underpinning underlying these processes suggest the predominant role of left perysilvian cortices, which exhibit activation dynamics 100-150 ms after the information is available at the sensory input.

3. Dr Yury Shtyrov «Automatic neural discrimination of lexical information in visually presented words».

Previous studies have established that the brain is capable of automatic lexical analysis of spoken language even in the absence of attention on the linguistic input. This was attributed to the activation of strong and robust word memory traces in the brain. Such an account would predict the automatic activation of these memory traces upon any presentation of linguistic information, irrespective of the modality in which it is presented. However, to date, linguistic experiments in the visual modality have not been able to explore this phenomenon, as they have usually presented stimuli (even if masked) in the focus of attention. Here, we present a series of neurophysiological studies in different languages which investigated the possibility of automatic processing of unattended lexical stimuli in the visual modality. Matched words and pseudowords were presented to volunteers outside the focus of attention while they were engaged in a non-linguistic visual dual task of detecting colour combinations in the centre of their visual field. Event-related EEG and MEG responses revealed a complex time course of brain activation dynamics underpinning lexical processing. Differential processing of words and pseudowords started early, from around 100 ms, and continued over extended time of a few hundred milliseconds. The results suggest that automatic neural processing of linguistic information is a universal phenomenon taking place in the visual as well as auditory modality. The earliest attention-independent neural activity to lexical stimuli may reflect the first-pass processing of linguistic information in the brain that precedes attention-dependant stages.

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