Cognitive Science Colloquia


Cognitive Science Colloquia are held* throughout the year and consist of seminars/talks given by invited speakers from various universities, as well as seminars by the METU staff or our own PhD students. The Colloquia aim to share information on cognitive science research, as well as promote academic research and collaboration. The seminars are open to anyone interested and provide an opportunity for our students to keep up with the recent research conducted in the field, allowing them to observe how research topics develop through academic exchange.


* Unless it is announced otherwise, seminars take place every Friday at 12:40, in the Informatics Institute (room II-03), METU.


For past years' colloquia, please visit here.



This Year (2016-2017)


Spring Semester


Symbol Emergence in Robots

by Emre Uğur (Computer Engineering, Boğaziçi University)

on 24th of March

[slides] TBA


Abstract In this talk, I will discuss whether, how and why symbols should emerge in intelligent systems such as humans and robots.  For this, I introduce a learning framework that enables manipulator robots (with 7 dof.  arms and multi-fingered hands) to progressively develop better and more abstract sensorimotor and cognitive skills through physical and social interactions with the environment. I will describe how behavior primitives, affordance categories, prediction and imitation mechanisms, and finally high-level symbolic operators can emerge in the continuous sensorimotor space of the robots through learning from such interactions. After giving a partial answer to 'how' question this way, I would like to discuss the 'whether' and 'why' questions with the audience.


Counter-Expectational Sense in Turkish and in General: Some Critical Data and Prospects for a Formal Treatment in a Layered-DRT

by Ceyhan Temürcü & Deniz Zeyrek (Cognitive Science, METU)

on 17th of March


Abstract Apparently, all human languages have strategies for challenging possible inferences from a preceding clause or discourse segment. This sense, which take part in the semantic ranges in Turkish *ama *or *fakat*, and of English *but*, has often been dubbed 'counter-expectational' (CE) and subsumed under the more general family of 'contrastive' senses. I this talk we will (i) provide critical data that reveals some semantic and pragmatic ingredients of the CE sense, (ii) propose a descriptive specification for this sense and (iii) provide prospects for a formal treatment of CE in a multi-layered version of DRT, which distinguishes temporal, epistemic, volitional, and illocutionary layers. In a nutshell, we will argue that CE denies a possible inference afforded by a counter-actual knowledge state.

Data we will consider will include cases where a possible inference from the first conjunct is explicitly challenged by the second conjunct (1), where it is indirectly challenged by the second conjunct (2-3), where there is apparently no (syntactic or discursive) first conjunct (4), where the first and second conjuncts belong to different interlocutors (5), and where the second conjunct denies a content which is directly expressed (rather then implied) by the first conjunct (6-8):


(1) Ahmet kısa boylu ama iyi basketbol oynuyor.

(2) Zor bir iş ama bence bir dene.

(3) Hava soğuk ama (neyse ki) paltom var.

(4) Ama sen sigara içiyorsun!

(5) I1. Ahmet evde / I2. Ama öğlen onu okulda gördüm.

(6) Ahmet burada olabilir, ama olmayabilir de.

(7) Arabayı sana verirdim ama sarhoşsun.

(8) Ahmet burada olabilirdi ama değil.


The proposal will be briefly compared to that of Winter and Rimon (1994), which is based on Veltman's (1986) data logic, and that of Toosarvandani (2014), which recruits Kratzer's (1981, 1991) analysis of modality.


Machine Learning of the Mind

by Fatoş T. Yarman Vural (Computer Engineering, METU)

on 10th of March


Abstract How does the information represented in the brain? We approach this question from the Artificial Intelligence perspective. Loosely speaking, we attempt to model the "Natural Intelligence" by using Artificial intelligence. We suggest a deep learning method to model the cognitive states of the brain, using functional magnetic resonance imaging data (fMRI). The suggested method assumes that the cognitive processes can be represented by a deep learning system, which is trained by the fMRI measurements.The most challenging problem of modeling such a learning system is the design of a model for the fMRI data, to extract the information about the underlying patterns of brain activity. In this study, we propose a new method called Mesh Learning, which learns the connectivity patterns of the brain. Then use these patterns to model and classify the fMRI data recorded during a set of cognitive tasks. The experimental results indicate that the suggested model has excellent performance compared to the state of the art statistical techniques.


Evolutionary Robotics and Swarm Robotics

by Ali Emre Turgut (Mechanical Engineering, METU)

on 3rd of March


Abstract Electronics and computers advanced considerably in the last two decades. As a consequence, we started to see more and more robots around us today than we see in the factories. Unmanned air vehicles and autonomous vacuum cleaners are two such examples. Main difference between these robots and the factory robots are that these robots have to tackle unstructured and unknown environments making it very challenging to design their controllers. There are different approaches to design the controllers. Evolutionary robotics is one such promising approach taking its inspiration from natural evolution. In the recent years, evolutionary algorithms have been applied successfully to different engineering problems including robotics. In this talk, I will make a brief introduction to evolutionary algorithms and evolutionary robotics. Then, I will briefly talk about swarm robotics and evolutionary swarm robotics field. The talk will end up with discussion about future directions.


Fall Semester

L2 Influence on L1 for Turkish-English Late Bilinguals

by Özkan Kılıç (Cognitive Science, METU)

on 6th of January


Abstract The potential effect of acquisition of the second language (L2) on the first (L1) is less well-understood. One might assume that the L1, once acquired, would be stable and resistant to change. However, accumulating evidence indicates that acquisition of an L2 can, in some respects, influence use of the L1. One way of thinking about where L2 influence on L1 might arise is based on the fact that linguistic knowledge must be accessed in memory in order to be used. If the lexicon is stored in declarative memory but morphosyntactic and phonological knowledge are stored in procedural memory, then lexical performance may be most susceptible to L2 influence because it will be most subject to standard memory parameters such as frequency of retrieval and use. By this line of reasoning, morphosyntax and phonology, which involve more automatized procedures, should be less vulnerable to L2 influence. In this colloquium, we will talk about L2 influence on L1 for Turkish-English late bilinguals in terms of: pronoun usage, verb framing and phonotactics.


What Good is a Formal Discourse Representation?

by Umut Özge (Cognitive Science, METU)

on 23rd of December


Abstract Two phenomena are critical in holding a natural language discourse together. One is "anaphora resolution" as in inferring that the pronoun `they' in (2) refers to a bunch of delegates reported to have arrived in (1).
(1) A few delegates arrived.
(2) They registered.

The other is presupposition. Take sentence (3)*:


(3) It seems to me that the moment has come that the bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed. 

The speaker of (3) already takes it for granted the content in (4):
(4) The German cities are being bombed for the sake of increasing the terror.


For instance, if you are not happy with the content in (4), responding `No, it hasn't' or `No, not really' to (3) would not help; you rather have to say something like `Wait a minute, who says that the bombing is for the sake of increasing the terror'. In technical terms, (3) is said to presuppose (4), and presuppositions survive under manipulations like negating the sentence or putting it into a question form. I will discuss how these two phenomena can be modeled under a formal discourse model, resulting in a unified treatment of anaphora and presupposition as one and the same phenomenon. Then, I will review some data from Turkish noun phrases which pose some interesting challenges to the model, together with sketches of possible solutions.

*Winston Churchill to Arthur Harris, Commander-in-Chief of RAF’s Bomber Command in 1945. Reported in Blitz, Bombing and Total War, Channel 4, January 15, 2005


The Abysmal Splendor of Cognitive Neuroscience

by Didem Gökçay (Cognitive Science, METU)

on 16th of December


Abstract In this talk, a brief history of cognitive neuroscience will be presented from 1980's and on. Localization efforts regarding association of mental functions with specific brain structures will be explained. Breakthroughs brought by fMRI methodology will be summarized. Some tools and features of this domain will be presented and the hype and failings regarding cognitive neuroscience will be illustrated. The talk will conclude with a critique of new funding directions.


Sensitivity to Vowel Harmony in the First Year of Life: Implications for Theories of (Phonological) Learning
by Annette Hohenberger (Cognitive Science, METU)

on 9th of December


Abstract Infants’ language perception abilities develop dramatically in their first year of life. Starting out as a universal listener they become (neurally) committed to their native language (Kuhl, 2014).


With behavioral methods – preferential listening and habituation – we studied the development of vowel harmony longitudinally in monolingual Turkish infants from 6-10-months of age. Infants at both ages can discriminate harmonic from disharmonic versions of the same word. However, 6-month-olds show discrimination only when they have been habituated with the disharmonic version first (e.g., zeybek-tan) and then hear the harmonic version in the test (e.g., zeybek-ten) whereas 10-month-olds can discriminate the versions in either order, indicating a more generalized discrimination ability. In terms of preference we found a characteristic shift from familiarity to novelty: 6-months-old infants preferred listening to harmonic words whereas as 10-month-olds preferred listening to disharmonic words. This shift indicates that infants first acquire the regular (harmonic) phonological pattern and filter out the irregular (disharmonic) pattern. Once the regular (familiar) pattern has been firmly established – which happens roughly between 6 and 10 months of age – they discern and appreciate the deviant (unfamiliar, novel) pattern. Such shifts have been observed in other cognitive domains as well, e.g., in vision.


The claim that early sensitivity to vowel harmony is based on language-specific auditory experience during the first year of life is supported by the negative results of van Kampen et al. (2008) who could not find any listening preference of 6-month-old German infants to vowel-harmonic vs. –disharmonic words. However, Mintz et al. (under review) could show that English-acquiring infants are able to segment words based on vowel (dis-)harmony cues after a short familiarization phase of only 50 sec. Obviously, studies using different experimental methodologies – discrimination, preference, segmentation – tap different processing mechanisms in early language development.


In my talk I will try to synthesize these various findings and try to reconcile them with theories of early (phonological) learning.

Negation and Its Logical Representation(s)

by Ceyhan Temürcü (Cognitive Science, METU)
on 2nd of December


Abstract In this talk I will try to show that negation in natural languages comes in many different types, which extend beyond the classical internal-external (or, narrow- vs wide-scope) dichotomy. I will argue that a multi-modal logical representation is necessary to capture different types of negation, in terms of content, temporal, epistemic and volitional levels.


Multilingual Discourse Annotation: Annotating TED Talks

by Deniz Zeyrek (Cognitive Science, METU)
on 25th of November


Abstract Discourse is a unit above the sentence level and can be analyzed in terms of several kinds of patterning including but not limited to discourse relations. Discourse relations are a level in discourse associated with the semantic relations (contrast, condition, expansion, etc.) that hold among text segments (clauses or groups of clauses). After introducing these basic concepts of discourse, I will talk about a recent initiative on annotating the transcripts of TED talks that involve several languages (Turkish, English, Portuguese, German and Russian). Annotation means adding informative information to texts and annotated texts are ultimately inputs to language technology applications. Our initiative involves annotating discourse relations across texts. I will explain the annotation procedure and describe the corpus along with implications on our understanding of discourse.


The Verb

by Cem Bozşahin (Cognitive Science, METU)
on 18th of November


Abstract Verbs define thematic structure and argument structure. In one conception of grammar, they also define the basic word order of a language. We know that all possibilities of Subject (S), Object (O) and the verb (V) have been attested in the world's languages, and that there are actually 8 possibilities rather than 6, for a transitive clause. Therefore a theory of grammar must start with eight possibilities for the child for any language. I will show a micro-world experiment about how we can go from such indeterminacy to well-established basic word orders, by relating empirical probabilities to narrowly constrained internal categories, to the point of seeing almost switch-like behavior, without a switch. Implications for other cognitive processes will be discussed, such as planning. Its relation to Language of Thought Hypothesis is also discussed, time permitting.


Applications of Optical Brain Imaging in Human-Computer & Human-Human Interaction

by Murat Perit Çakır (Cognitive Science, METU)
on 11th of November


Abstract Recent advances in sensor design and data acquisition/analysis methods have opened up the possibility to conduct brain imaging studies in the field. The increasing portability of electroencephalography (EEG) and functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) systems allow researchers to study brain dynamics in various ecological settings (e.g. operating some machinery via an interface or engaging in some learning activity). The increasing availability of these systems have also brought the possibility of studying brain dynamics across participants in the context of a collaborative activity. This seminar will provide a brief overview of optical brain imaging methods and illustrate recent studies conducted at our lab to explore the use of fNIRS in domains such as ergonomics, communication and learning. 

Group Eye Tracking (GET) Paradigm for Social Cognition Research

by Cengiz Acartürk (Cognitive Science, METU)

on 4th of November

Abstract Multi-user eye tracking (aka. group eye tracking GET) paradigm has opened new horizons for many disciplines ranging from cognitive sciences, education, economics and social psychology to human-computer interaction. In this talk, I will present two studies that have been conducted by using the GET paradigm. The first is a three-player game, where the participants played the game under competitive and elaborative conditions. The second study focuses on a decision-making task, where the participants make risky or conservative monetary choices. My goal is to share the findings, present the challenges in current research, and discuss the future of multi-user eye tracking paradigms.