Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Rhythmic constraints on stress timing in English

What kind of embodied constraints affect the production of speech? Can we say anything we like when we like, or are there constraints in play that make some things easier than others? This is the question asked in Cummins & Port (1998) which we recently read in lab meeting (with our PhD student Agnes).

Cummins and Port asked participants to produce sentences over and over and examined when during the cycle a certain stress beat occurred. They set it up so that the beat was timed with a beep to occur throughout the cycle, but showed that people could actually only place the beat in 2 or 3 places in the beat reliably. The big picture result is that speech production is shaped, in part, by the underlying dynamics of production described in terms of the rhythms it is set up to produce.

The nice detail here comes from the theoretical set up and analysis that drives this study. Cummins and Port are directly inspired and guided by work in coordination dynamics. Agnes is interested in this work because she's looking at ways to investigate language and speech using the tools of dynamical systems and embodied cognition - remember, our big pitch is that language is special but not magical and we should be able to study it the way we study, say, rhythmic movement coordination. 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Embodying Culture: My ongoing conversation with Soliman & Glenberg

Would a formal reply make me this guy?
I've been exchanging views with Art Glenberg and his colleagues about a paper he published recently in Frontiers. I reviewed it, had reservations but eventually let it through, then published my concerns as a commentary on the original paper. Soliman and Glenberg (2014; S&G) then replied to my reply which I didn't know about until I noticed the commentary had a citation in my Google Scholar profile

I could simply publish a reply to their reply, but to be honest I'm not sure it's worth it; it feels a little too much like arguing on the internet. I'll link to this in the comments section of the Frontiers page, however, and if people think it's worth the DOI then I'll write this reply up as a formal submission. I'd be interested to hear from you all on this.


The short version of my reply is that in the process of dodging my criticism they concede it applies to them, and they swerve into a literature that doesn't help. I do think they've applied some serious and valuable consideration to the details of their proposal, though, so I think this has been a useful process.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

A Gibsonian analysis of linguistic information

This post is based on a talk I just gave at the Finding Common Ground Conference at the University of Connecticut. Please excuse the Power Pointy nature of some sections! You might need to Ctrl+ to see some of the images clearly.  I have made some changes from the original talk content on the basis of very useful feedback I received from other conference attendees.

What is the place of language in ecological psychology? Is language a type of direct perception? Is language comprehension direct perception? Does language have affordances?

In trying to answer these questions I discovered that some things we think of as being perceptual have a lot in common with the conventionality of language and that some language-related behaviours look a lot like perception (as typically construed). I end up suggesting that we move away from talking about 'perception' and 'language' as different types of entities and instead focus on information / behaviour relations in specific tasks.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Affordances are not probabilistic functions

The journal Ecological Psychology is hosting a special issue with papers from a Festschrift for Herb Pick. Karen Adolph and John Franchak have a paper that caught my eye about treating affordances as probabilistic functions, effectively applying standard psychophysical techniques to the study of affordance perception. 

The idea is this: affordance research typically treats affordances as all-or-none, categorical properties. You can either reach that object or you can't; you can either pass through that aperture without turning or you can't. You then measure a bunch of people doing the task as you alter some key parameter (e.g. the distance to the target, or the width of the aperture) and find the critical point, the value of some body-scaled measurement of the parameter where behaviour switches from success to failure. For instance, you might express the aperture width in terms of the shoulder width and look for the common value of this ratio where people switch their behaviour from turning to not turning.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Psychology's real replication problem: our Methods sections

Replication has been a big topic in psychology recently as a) we've suddenly realised we need more of it and b) because there have recently been several high profile replication efforts published (e.g the Many Labs effort; see Ed Yong's summary). Last week Simone Schnall, one of the authors whose work failed to replicate in that project, wrote a blog about her experiences getting replicated. She has issues with the replication (specifically that their data had a ceiling effect on the morality measures which would obscure any differences) but one particular comment caught my eye:
Of course replications are much needed and as a field we need to make sure that our findings are reliable. But we need to keep in mind that there are human beings involved, which is what Danny Kahneman’s commentary emphasizes. Authors of the original work should be allowed to participate in the process of having their work replicated. (emphasis mine)
This idea that there is somehow a requirement to involve authors in efforts to replicate their work. This is nonsense; once you have published some work then it is fair game for replication, failure to replicate, criticism, critique and discussion. In other words, we're all allowed to science the hell out of your work any time we like. We don't need either your permission or your involvement: the only thing we (should) need is your Methods section and if you don't like this, then stop publishing your results where we can find them.

Of course, getting the original authors involved can be very productive; you can chat experimental details, make sure you have covered everything, and generally be collegial about the whole thing instead of adversarial. But there is no obligation to do this, and I'm surprised that people think there is one.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Connecting the conceptual dots in embodied cognition

Around about the time we published our embodied cognition paper, we also reviewed a paper for that research topic, which happened to be an example of the conceptualisation hypothesis  style of 'embodied' cognition we aren't all that impressed by.

We had serious reservations about the paper (detailed below) and did not think it should be published. After several rounds of trying and failing to get the authors to acknowledge the problem, 
we withdrew from the review and the editor, Dermot Lynott then decided to side with the other reviewers (who had identified the same problem we had but who didn't think it was a fatal flaw). The paper (Dijkstra, Eerland, Zijlmans & Post, 2012) was therefore published.

A while back I drafted a commentary laying out the problems with this paper; the full text is here. The motivation for a comment was the same as for the one I wrote for Soliman et al (2014); this style of embodiment does not tackle the hard questions about mechanism that are crucial for an embodied account and this is a big problem. I cannot decide if the commentary is worth publishing; this paper is not that important, although it is a good example of this major issue for 'grounded' embodied cognition. Any thoughts on this would be welcome.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Does action scaling predict 'the embodiment of culture'? (No.)

I recently reviewed a paper for Frontiers by Arthur Glenberg and colleagues called 'Sensory motor mechanisms unify psychology: the embodiment of culture' (Soliman, Gibson & Glenberg, 2014). This is part of an ongoing research topic on embodied cognition run by Guy Dove. Once the paper had been published, I took the opportunity to write up my main remaining problem with the paper as a commentary piece (Wilson, 2014) and I'd like to review that here (and also please see my comment at the end about my role here as reviewer). Go download the paper, though, I worked hard to produce a focused critique in the 1000 word limit and I think it went well.

Glenberg and colleagues are trying to develop a broad embodied framework that can encompass both traditional hunting grounds like perception and action but also 'higher order' cognition like social cognition and culture. I admire the effort but to my mind this is grounded cognition, not embodied and so this is not an approach I'd endorse. I like to review papers like this though because it's healthy to have an adversarial reviewer who tries not to be evil (I promise!), and because I also like to keep myself informed about the work I'm rejecting so that I don't start fighting straw men.