Events Calendar

02 Aug
Cathedral
Event Type

Defenses

Target Audience

Faculty, Graduate Students

University Unit
Department of Psychology
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Dissertation Defense-Heather Bruett

The Neural and Cognitive Bases of Ambiguous and Unambiguous Conceptual Combination

 

The brain maintains representations of classes of objects or events, or their properties, in memory for future use. The organization of these representations, known as concepts, allows for efficient cognitive processing. Importantly, despite this organization, given learning and task goals, conceptual representations can be altered to align with the current context. One cognitive process, known as conceptual combination, allows for a unique perspective for exploring how complex conceptual processing occurs and how this processing influences the underlying representations of concepts. During novel nominal conceptual combination, two constituent nouns, a modifier noun (e.g., lemon) and a head noun (e.g., flamingo) are creatively combined to form a novel meaning (e.g., a lemon flamingo might be a yellow flamingo). Different strategies can be taken up by combiners - typically being either attributive (as above) or relational (e.g., a lemon flamingo is a flamingo that consumes lemons). Importantly, few studies have directly examined more ambiguous combinations, which are more complex to process, having an equal likelihood of being combined attributively or relationally between individuals. 

 

This dissertation addresses two main aims for understanding nominal conceptual combination through a series of four experiments. First, it explores how conceptual combination occurs - the pathways driving different kinds of conceptual combination. In Experiment 1, I examine how easily conceptual combinations can be formed and subsequently remembered. In Experiment 2, I explore how individual differences in cognition predict ease of combining. The second aim explores how conceptual combination differently impacts the representations of the constituent concepts. In Experiment 3, I address whether and how the cognitive representations of the head noun in a conceptual combination are altered because of being conceptually combined. Finally, Experiment 4 addresses both aims using neuroimaging to explore how different types of conceptual combinations are processed and how the neural representations of concepts are altered because of their combination. The findings show representational change due to conceptual combination in early visual processing regions of the brain and suggest that conceptual combination may rely on additional cognitive processes throughout the lifespan. There is also an emerging theme of the importance of cognitive control in the ease of combining unambiguous (relational and attributive) combinations, though interestingly, not ambiguous combinations. Finally, the findings show differences in the processing of different types of conceptual combinations, both between attributive and relational combinations and between unambiguous and ambiguous. These findings suggest that ambiguous compounds are processed differently from unambiguous compounds and advocate for the inclusion of ambiguous compounds in future studies of conceptual combination. 

 

Dial-In Information

Please contact Graduate Administrator at frs38@pitt.edu for Zoom link. 

Monday, August 2 at 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Virtual Event

Dissertation Defense-Heather Bruett

The Neural and Cognitive Bases of Ambiguous and Unambiguous Conceptual Combination

 

The brain maintains representations of classes of objects or events, or their properties, in memory for future use. The organization of these representations, known as concepts, allows for efficient cognitive processing. Importantly, despite this organization, given learning and task goals, conceptual representations can be altered to align with the current context. One cognitive process, known as conceptual combination, allows for a unique perspective for exploring how complex conceptual processing occurs and how this processing influences the underlying representations of concepts. During novel nominal conceptual combination, two constituent nouns, a modifier noun (e.g., lemon) and a head noun (e.g., flamingo) are creatively combined to form a novel meaning (e.g., a lemon flamingo might be a yellow flamingo). Different strategies can be taken up by combiners - typically being either attributive (as above) or relational (e.g., a lemon flamingo is a flamingo that consumes lemons). Importantly, few studies have directly examined more ambiguous combinations, which are more complex to process, having an equal likelihood of being combined attributively or relationally between individuals. 

 

This dissertation addresses two main aims for understanding nominal conceptual combination through a series of four experiments. First, it explores how conceptual combination occurs - the pathways driving different kinds of conceptual combination. In Experiment 1, I examine how easily conceptual combinations can be formed and subsequently remembered. In Experiment 2, I explore how individual differences in cognition predict ease of combining. The second aim explores how conceptual combination differently impacts the representations of the constituent concepts. In Experiment 3, I address whether and how the cognitive representations of the head noun in a conceptual combination are altered because of being conceptually combined. Finally, Experiment 4 addresses both aims using neuroimaging to explore how different types of conceptual combinations are processed and how the neural representations of concepts are altered because of their combination. The findings show representational change due to conceptual combination in early visual processing regions of the brain and suggest that conceptual combination may rely on additional cognitive processes throughout the lifespan. There is also an emerging theme of the importance of cognitive control in the ease of combining unambiguous (relational and attributive) combinations, though interestingly, not ambiguous combinations. Finally, the findings show differences in the processing of different types of conceptual combinations, both between attributive and relational combinations and between unambiguous and ambiguous. These findings suggest that ambiguous compounds are processed differently from unambiguous compounds and advocate for the inclusion of ambiguous compounds in future studies of conceptual combination. 

 

Dial-In Information

Please contact Graduate Administrator at frs38@pitt.edu for Zoom link. 

Monday, August 2 at 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Virtual Event

Event Type

Defenses

Target Audience

Faculty, Graduate Students

University Unit
Department of Psychology

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