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Brooks and Homer receive PSC-CUNY Awards!

Professor Patricia Brooks and Associate Professor Bruce Homer both received PSC-CUNY awards this year! Congratulations! Below we listed the titles of the research projects and brief project overviews.

Dr. Brooks and Phd Candidate Maya Rose (co-PI) received a PSC-CUNY Grant for their research project titled “Does Speaking Improve Comprehension of Turkish as a Foreign Language? A Computer-Assisted Language Learning Study.”

Project Overview: We explore whether the “testing” effect, indicating benefits of retrieval practice for learning, extends to foreign language comprehension. Using a computer-assisted language learning protocol, we present adult learners with Turkish dialogues paired with corresponding pictures. The sentences exemplify features of Turkish nominal morphology, including number and case marking and allomorphic variation in suffixes. Learning tasks vary by experimental condition: Group 1 engages in retrieval practice, generating spoken sentences in response to questions; Group 2 engages in listen and repeat, repeating answers to questions; Group 3 engages only in comprehension, selecting pictures that match the answers to questions. Following training, all groups are tested on comprehension of familiar and novel sentences and vocabulary. After refresher training, we use event-related potentials to assess learners’ sensitivity to errors in number and case marking. Data analyses explore potential interactions between learning conditions and aptitude (declarative memory, working memory, nonverbal intelligence, nonword repetition) with implications for foreign language instruction.

Dr. Homer and PhD students Jessica Brodsky, Ming Chen and Zach Bergson received a PSC-CUNY Grant for their research project titled “Development of an Online, Advanced Theory of Mind Measure Using Natural Language Processing.”

Project Overview: Theory of Mind (ToM), the ability to reason about the perspectives, emotions, and desires of others, is critical for social-emotional functioning (Wellman, Cross, & Watson, 2001). There is general consensus that first-order ToM reasoning develops by age 5, with greater developmental and cultural variation found for more advanced understanding of the mind (Slaughter & Perez-Zapata, 2014). Although we know more about early developments of ToM, social understanding and related cognitive skills continue to develop well into adolescence and early adulthood (Blakemore & Choudhury, 2006). To capture later developments in advanced Theory of Mind (aToM), the PI and his colleagues have developed the Flexibility and Automaticity of Social Cognition task (FASC; Hayward, Homer, & Sprung, 2018).

The FASC uses cartoons to present brief social scenarios that vary in their use of language and in the ambiguity of the social situation. Language is included because it has been identified as a critical factor in the development of ToM. For example, Astington and Jenkins (1999) found that 3-year-olds’ language ability predicts subsequent ToM, and Ruffman et al. (2003) found that, controlling for a number of factors, mothers’ use of mental state language predicted children’s subsequent ToM development. Ambiguity is included based on the theoretical model that ToM development involves two different cognitive processes: low-level processes that are cognitively efficient but inflexible – used for unambiguous, familiar situations, and high-level processes that are highly flexible but cognitively demanding – used for ambiguous, unfamiliar situations (Apperly, 2011; Homer, Halkitis, Moeller & Solomon, 2013). In our research, we have found that both language and ambiguity predict aToM after controlling for age (Hayward et al., 2018; Homer, Brodsky, & Plass, 2019). 

For the proposed project, we will develop and validate a tool to automate the coding of participants’ FASC responses in the online, digital version of the task, using natural language processing (NLP). Existing data will be used to train the system, which will then be tested with the data from the original Hayward et al. (2018) study, which validated the original version of the FASC. 

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