Research in Cognitive Science at JHU
The Cognitive Science Department at Johns Hopkins studies the mind as a computational system, with a particular focus on language and spatial representation. Our research seeks to discover the formal structure of cognition at all levels of analysis. What functions does the cognitive system compute and why? What representational formats and algorithms does the mind employ? What neural structures and patterns of neural activity realize the mind in the brain? How are these realized in the adult mind/brain, and how do they develop? Our multi-disciplinary approach to the science of the mind emphasizes intellectual cohesion and cooperation across disciplines that have traditionally been distinct. We utilize a wide range of methodologies, including traditional and experimental methods in generative linguistics and cognitive psychology, cognitive neuro-scientific studies with fMRI and other techniques, cognitive neuropsychological investigations of children and adults with brain injuries or developmental disabilities, and computational modeling. Last year the National Research Council ranked us as one of the top departments in the country (link).
Please follow the links if you want to know more about our specific approach to research areas in linguistics, FAQ, and description of our Ph.D. program which highlight what’s unique about graduate training in Cognitive Science at JHU.
Acquisition & Development
Research in this area addresses foundational issues in the nature and development of human cognition. Studies on language acquisition address the nature of linguistic universals, and their interaction with learning mechanisms which produce language-specific acquisitions. Studies on cognitive development address the nature of human spatial, visual, and conceptual representations, and how core representations in these areas interact with learning mechanisms to enhance, sharpen, and/or change representations. Development and acquisition in general are viewed within a framework that emphasizes innate contributions to mature knowledge, and how these might be shaped over time. To address these issues, our group uses a variety of methodological approaches, including experimental, formal linguistic, and computational modeling. Studies cover age ranges from infancy through early childhood, from both normal and unusual populations, and use benchmark evidence from adult studies to determine the nature and course of change.
Cognitive neuropsychological and neuroscience methods are used to elucidate the nature of mental representation and processing and its neural substrates. Specific methods include: the analysis of the performance of adults who have suffered neural injury (as a result or stroke, trauma, degenerative disease), the study of individuals who suffer from developmental deficits (including developmental dyslexia , dysgraphia or Williams Syndrome), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), eye tracking and cortical stimulation. These methods are used to investigate, among others, topics such as: the relationship between language and spatial processes, the neural substrates that support recovery of function in acquired language deficits, the relationship between and among language processes (morphology, syntax, phonology, orthography and semantics), the nature of the neural reorganization that occurs in the somatosensory system subsequent to damage, and the types of spatial reference frames that are involved in representing spatial location as well as the nature of spatial representations within and across different modalities and brain/cognitive systems.
Computational research in cognitive science focuses on fundamental issues in language structure, processing, and learning. Part of our work studies the computational and mathematical properties of the symbolic formal systems exploited in linguistic theory. We also investigate both language processing and acquisition, with particular attention to the role played by grammatical knowledge in such processes. In addition, our group studies the connections between symbolic and neural computation, in order to understand the kinds of symbolic computation that can be neurally realized and genetically encoded. Our approach to these topics is by and large theoretical, focusing primarily on mathematical formalization, with use of computational simulations for support. In addition, in conjunction with faculty members in the Center for Language and Speech Processing, our group engages in basic research into a variety of areas of applied computational linguistics, ranging from machine translation to the learning of grammatical structure from corpora.
Experimental studies in language and other cognitive domains include a range of projects that examine the representational underpinnings of human mental experience. For example, in the language domain, members of our group explore how aspects of comprehension can be explained in terms of specific hypotheses regarding the mental representation of linguistic expressions. More generally these concerns are pursued in studies of how the representational mode of linguistic or spatial information constrains the processes that extract that information from a perceptual signal. In the domain of language production, we examine how humans organize and accomplish the planning of a word, phrase or sentence. Various methodologies are employed by our group to examine issues in language and spatial processing, including eye-tracking and imaging. Equally noteworthy is the degree to which our experimental work draws on complementary approaches to the object of study, including formal, computational, developmental and neuropsychological investigation.
See the detailed overview of Linguistics at JHU.
What can cognitive science teach us about aesthetics? Is aesthetics a topic that is amenable to the methods of cognitive science? The "Cognitive Science of Aesthetics" wiki site is dedicated to the exploration of the interface between cognitive science and aesthetics. It is intended as a portal of information in an attempt to foster collaboration and a sense of community amongst the researchers in this field. Visit the Wiki
Philosophical and Formal Foundations of Cognitive Science
Philosophical issues pervade cognitive science. Among those studied in our department are: the nature of mental representations and their neural realization; the structure of the computational architecture supporting cognition (including linguistic theories such as Optimality Theory); the pervasive methodological challenges of arguing from behavioral and neural data to characterization of mental structures. The research of this group is unusual in that a strong empirical and computational base is combined with a serious commitment to fully characterizing the assumptions and implications of cognitive theory. Developing argumentation skills is a central goal of the training program.
Vision & Space
Manipulation of spatial information is central to a broad range of cognitive functions, including navigation and way-finding, recognizing and interacting with objects, and even reading. Several lines of research in our department probe the mental representation and processing of spatial information, exploring such topics as frames of reference and forms of location representation in the visual system; representation of object shape and orientation; development of spatial competence; relationships between language and spatial processes; and navigation through local environments. Although much of the research focuses on visuo-spatial cognition, other forms of spatial representation and processing are also addressed (e.g., body surface representations in the somatosensory system). Methods include cognitive neuropsychological studies of brain-damaged patients with unilateral spatial neglect or impairments in visual location perception; studies of spatial development in normal children, and in children with Williams Syndrome; and studies of navigation and other aspects of spatial cognition in normal adults.
See the detailed overview of Linguistics at JHU.
The department’s research facilities are provided by the following laboratories. Please note that not all labs have web pages at this time.
Department members also conduct research in the F.M. Kirby Center for Functional Brain Imaging at the Kennedy Krieger Institute and in other laboratories at Johns Hopkins Medicine.