Representations of Conceptual Knowlege Through Semantic Hierarchies
Advisor: Brad Mahon
Majors: Cognitive Science and Linguistics
One of the focal points of language processing research is addressing the question of how semantic knowledge is organized, particularly as it pertains to modality-specific representations of perceptual information. The theory which will be explored in this study argues for an intermediate conceptual representation through which perceptual properties are accessed. This has been tested using semantic knowledge tasks, such as picture naming and association verification, to compare performance across categories of concrete entities (i.e. tools vs. animals), as well as sensorimotor properties (i.e. sound vs. taste). However, there is little data comparing performance across abstract semantic attributes, such as typical location and functional purpose. In this project, I will investigate the retrieval of semantic knowledge through the proposed amodal interface by administering a semantic attribute verification task pertaining to these abstract properties to stroke patients and healthy controls and comparing performance with respect to lesions within specific regions within the temporal lobe, namely near the fusiform gyrus and anterior hippocampus. Following this primary phase of the study, I propose a follow up using fMRI to provide greater insight into these regions and the routes of activation implicated in the accessing of semantic information, though this would be beyond the scope the the project timeline and would be carried out following preliminary analysis of the behavioral data. The data collected in this study will not only deepen our knowledge of the structures involved in language processing but will also allow for more accurate understanding of neural networks. These models can be used to better predict the behavior deficits associated with lesions to specific brain regions, as well as inform the development of cognitive models and AI.
Anna is majoring in Cognitive Science with an additional major in Linguistics. She is looking forward to the opportunity to explore these topics in more depth with her thesis project, which she hopes will be the first of many cognitive linguistic studies to come. She is interested in research on the neural and cognitive bases of language and hopes to pursue a PhD in the field. Outside of school, her hobbies include painting, crossword puzzles and sharing useless facts, which her friends and family love.